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    A majority of Georgians disapprove of President Donald Trump’s performance in the White House and he appears to be facing a hard fight against each of the five top Democratic candidates seeking to replace him, according to an exclusive Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll. In head-to-head matchups, former Vice President Joe Biden ran strongest against Trump, leading the president 51% to 43%, fueled by solid support from women and independents. Other matchups against South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are much tighter. The findings provide an early snapshot of the developing race in Georgia one year out from the election and strengthens claims that the state will be a 2020 battleground. » Interactive: See poll results » Related: How — and why — we conducted this poll » Related: Georgians support impeachment inquiry, split on Trump ouster » PDF: Complete poll crosstabs The poll highlighted the sharp degree of polarization around Trump, who is the focus of public impeachment hearings that begin Wednesday. About 54% of registered Georgia voters disapprove of his record while 44% approve. It also shows the unsettled nature of U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s quest for a second term in 2020. Though about 50% of Georgians approve of his job performance, only about one-third say they’d support him in next year’s election. A bigger group — 41% — say their choice depends on who the Democratic nominee is. The findings help illustrate the political challenges facing both parties as Democrats target Georgia as a 2020 battleground, aiming to flip both U.S. Senate seats up for grabs next year and carry the state in a presidential election for the first time since Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory. The poll was conducted Oct. 30 to Nov. 8 by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points. For Democrats, the most encouraging finding might be the shift of independents, a largely white bloc of voters that has traditionally leaned Republican. A majority of independents support the impeachment inquiry, and about 60% disapprove of Trump’s job performance. Republicans are buoyed by signs that Trump is further consolidating GOP support, with 87% of Republicans contributing to an increase in his overall favorability rating to 42%. A broad majority of conservatives also opposes the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry. And Gov. Brian Kemp’s popularity continues to rise: Some 54% of Georgia voters give him a favorable review one year since he won the election, up from 46% in April and 37% in January. That includes most women and about one-fifth of Democrats. His job approval rating was about the same. That echoes a generally positive view of Georgia’s direction. While about 61% of voters say they’re not satisfied with the way things are going in the U.S. — including one-third who are “very” dissatisfied — voters are sunnier about Georgia’s outlook: About 60% are keen on the way things are going. Still, many voters fear darker economic clouds are threatening. About 55% of voters describe the economy as “excellent” or “good,” and one-third say it’s “fair.” But a majority – 54% — worry that a recession is likely in the next year. Not ‘perfect’ Those concerns join a swirl of other factors that will influence next year’s race for president, but Trump might loom largest. Democrats remain overwhelmingly opposed to the president, with about 90% “strongly” disapproving of him. Among them is Albert Ross of Savannah, who is leaning toward Biden but said he’s willing to support anyone else on the ballot to ensure Trump is a one-term president. “I wouldn’t vote for him if he was giving reparations,” said Ross, who is black. At the same time, Republican support appears to be strengthening for the president. In April, an AJC poll found 83% of GOP voters had a favorable impression of Trump. In November, that rose to roughly 87% of voters who strongly or somewhat approve of him. Beverly Hales, a retired preschool teacher from Canton, said she plans to support Trump because of low unemployment rates and support for the military — and she is willing to overlook what she considers his shortcomings. “I know he is not a perfect person; none of them are,” Hales said. “But I think he has done good for the country.” Each of the five potential Democratic presidential candidates tested in the AJC poll had strong support among women and voters under age 45, areas of traditional strength for Democrats in Georgia. But Biden fared better than his counterparts among independents, with 46% of the vote, and with white voters, tallying 34% of the vote. He and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders also performed best with men, each notching 42% of the male vote in hypothetical matchups against Trump. Apart from Biden’s 8-point edge in the head-to-head matchups, none of the other Democrats tested in the AJC survey have clear leads over Trump. The poll also suggests that Perdue, a former Fortune 500 chief executive, could face a tight race. In a contest against an unnamed Democratic opponent, about 35% of voters back Perdue, including about three-quarters of Republicans. One-fifth of voters will back the Democrat. But the plurality of voters say they are in wait-and-see mode depending on who his Democratic opponent is. That includes two-thirds of independents and a majority of voters who consider themselves moderates or slightly conservative. Who Perdue will face remains an open question: Four well-known Democrats are competing for the nomination, and more candidates could join the contest before the May primary. ‘Pretty cautious’ The poll points to deep unpopularity of the Medicare for All plan to provide government-funded health care, which some Democrats say can be achieved without raising taxes on middle-class Americans. Both Sanders and Warren have made Medicare for All a main focus of their plans. Only 40% of Georgia voters support the idea, compared with 53% who oppose it. Independent voters are almost evenly split on the issue, and nearly one-third of Democrats say it’s a bad idea. Republicans, on the other hand, are nearly united in their opposition, with more than 80% against it. The lean toward more government programs factors into Anthony Quadagno’s 2020 calculus. He considers himself a “Reagan conservative” and is concerned with some of Trump’s behavior, but he plans to vote for him in 2020. “He backpedals a lot,” said Quadagno, who lives in Marietta. “I don’t know if I believe him. But I just think the Democratic candidates, they’re leaning way toward socialism and that scares me.” Democrats, meanwhile, are careful not to let a sense of enthusiasm about defeating Trump get to their heads. Flannery Williams, a gerontology student from Lilburn, described a tentative mood going into next year’s election. “It could go either way, but I’m pretty cautious about 2020,” she said. “I’d love to think it’s going great, but I thought the last election was going great — and I was very surprised when Trump won.”
  • A majority of Georgia voters approve of the Democratic-led impeachment investigation into President Donald Trump, but they are more divided over whether he should be ousted from office, according to an exclusive Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll released Tuesday. The poll found that nearly 54% of registered Georgia voters approve of the impeachment inquiry into whether Trump tried to enlist Ukraine to open investigations into his political opponents. That’s compared with 44% of voters who oppose and 2% who don’t know or refused to answer. Asked whether he should be removed from office, Georgians were almost evenly split: About 47% say he should be removed, about 47% say he should not, and about 6% did not answer or didn’t know. Those are the findings from the latest AJC poll, which was conducted by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs amid the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into the president. » Interactive: See poll results » Related: How — and why — we conducted this poll » Related: Trump faces tough re-election fight in Georgia » PDF: Complete poll crosstabs It mirrors a growing collection of national polls that show the country is divided along political lines on impeachment, an issue that will attract even more attention Wednesday when the U.S. House holds the first in a series of public hearings after weeks of closed-door testimony. The poll, which was conducted from Oct. 30 to Nov. 8, has a margin of error of 3 percentage points. The findings reflected the partisan warfare that’s dominated the public discussion about removing Trump from office. Support for impeachment is overwhelming among Georgia Democrats, with 94% in favor and only 6% opposed. Among Republicans, the opposition to impeachment is almost as strong, with 86% opposing impeachment and about 13% in favor. Independents are more split: About 55% approve of the inquiry and 43% disapprove. The results tighten when voters are pressed on whether Trump should be removed from office after impeachment. About 88% of Democrats say he should be ousted, a slightly lower proportion than support impeachment, while a higher percentage of Republicans say Trump should remain in office. The poll found 90% of Republicans oppose removing him from office, while 8% support it. A slim majority of independents also oppose Trump’s ouster, with 51% against removing him and 40% in support. ‘Strife and stress’ That sharp divide is no mystery to Flannery Williams, a gerontology student from Lilburn who begrudgingly admires Trump’s deep reservoir of support. She marvels at Trump’s “my way or the highway” mentality, which she said helps cocoon him from fallout over impeachment. “He’s broken many, many laws over the course of his presidency,” she said. “And the fact that he is president has given him leeway to do it.” The president’s Georgia backers echoed the rhetoric from many Republican politicians by describing impeachment as a politicized attempt to thwart Trump. Darryl Douglass, an information technology worker from Jonesboro, said he’s seen no evidence yet warranting Trump’s removal from office. “It’s all a political stunt because the Democrats have a hard time grasping that they’re losing the 2020 election,” he said. “Over the next couple of years, they’re going to come to grips with the fact that Trump will be sitting in the Oval Office in 2021 — and they can’t do anything about it.” Some Georgia voters are rallying behind Democrats who are leading the inquiry. Deby Glidden, an Atlanta consultant, is among the independents who say Trump should be removed from office. “He’s run afoul of everything this country stands for, including requesting political interference from other countries. I think that’s treason,” said Glidden, who once considered herself a Republican. “And there’s basis for impeachment with all of the testimony that’s been given so far.” Others worry that Congress is too focused on impeaching Trump while ignoring other demanding issues. Vivian E. Johnson, a college chaplain, said she wants Congress to expand health care access and create new ways to help recent graduates find work. “Impeachment is not going to make any difference. There are so many other things that we need to be focused on, and impeachment will divert us,” she said. “It’s causing a lot of strife and stress out there. This is just not the time.”
  • Three years after challenging black voters to shrug off support for Democrats and back him, President Donald Trump used Atlanta as a staging ground for a new African American outreach initiative that he said would be a key part of his 2020 re-election bid.  Surrounded by roughly 400 supporters, including some who were from out of state, the president on Friday invoked the refrain he repeated so often during the 2016 campaign in front of largely white crowds as an appeal to African American voters: “What the hell do you have to lose?”  Those who took the gamble and supported him, Trump said, were rewarded with criminal justice initiatives, low black unemployment rates and staunch opposition to abortion, he said at the launch of his Black Voices for Trump group. Democrats, he countered, can only come up with empty promises.  “Under Democratic politicians, African Americans have become forgotten — literally forgotten — Americans,” Trump told the crowd, a mostly black audience that also included much of the Georgia GOP’s top leadership. “Under my administration, they’ve become forgotten no longer.” Photos: Donald Trump visits Georgia More: Demonstrators take to Atlanta streets Friday to protest Trump visit More: Here’s what ‘Black Voices for Trump’ supporters are saying about Trump’s Atlanta visit Outside the cramped Georgia World Congress Center, hundreds gathered to protest the president, waving signs mocking his agenda or supporting his impeachment. Some got into shouting matches with Trump supporters. And earlier in the day, several of Georgia’s most prominent Democratic leaders assailed his presidency.  State Sen. Nikema Williams, the Atlanta-based chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said Trump was bringing his “backward agenda to Georgia to pretend like his actions haven’t been a disaster for the black community and marginalized communities across this entire country.”  “In Georgia, we know better on issues from health care to criminal justice to education to basic respect, Donald Trump has failed to be a president for all Americans, especially Americans from marginalized backgrounds,” Williams said Friday morning.  Trump is trying to improve on dismal support among black voters. Just 8% of them cast ballots for him nationwide in 2016. And a recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that only 4% of African Americans think Trump’s actions and policies have benefited black people.  Angeline Payne, who lives in South Fulton, said she attended the event to support Trump and “rally and recruit” black voters. More African Americans need to get engaged in politics and stop letting others tell them how to vote, she said.  “If you live in America, you’re involved,” said Payne, 58. “So you should get educated. Find out about the parties, where the parties came from, how they represent you, and then make a decision on what party you want to be and don’t let somebody tell you what party you’re in.”  Payne, who teaches financial literacy, said when voters aren’t engaged they just align with a party by default. “And if you’re not looking at the other side and seeing what they’re doing,” she said, “do you really want to be represented by that?” ‘Awfully bad’  The event was nothing like the last time Trump appeared at the Georgia World Congress Center, when thousands of his supporters thronged a vast concrete ballroom in 2016 for a rally memorable in part because the lights briefly went out.  Friday’s event was held in a far smaller room in the convention center and was open to only those who had invitations, leaving some of the president’s backers waiting outside for a chance to see him speak.  It started with an excerpt of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a poem that’s often referred to as the black national anthem, which caused a stir on social media with critics who called it disingenuous.  Trump was preceded by Vice President Mike Pence, who told the crowd of the sweep of black Republicans who were elected to office during the Reconstruction era and said that the GOP, from Abraham Lincoln to Dwight Eisenhower, has advocated for black Americans.  Then came U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, the only African American member of Trump’s Cabinet, who drew a rousing ovation when he told the crowd that if “Trump is a racist, he’s an awfully bad one.”  That contrasted with the message from Williams and other Democratic legislators, who blasted the president’s play for black voters and said their party is best positioned to meet the needs of communities of color. The Rev. Timothy McDonald, a civil rights leader and pastor of the First Iconium Baptist Church in Atlanta, closed the news conference Friday morning with a scathing rebuke of Trump’s latest effort to woo black voters.  “To launch a program that he thinks is going to cause black people to vote for him is outrageous, it is insane and it is a slap in the face of all Americans of goodwill,” McDonald said. “This man’s rhetoric and his agenda have taken our country backward, not forward, to a time when there was much pain that existed.” ‘Why not?’  Although Trump’s event targeted black voters, the audience was peppered with influential white politicians from Georgia: Gov. Brian Kemp, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, and U.S. Reps. Doug Collins, Buddy Carter and Jody Hice were all in the building. Each was also singled out by Trump.  The crowd was also dotted with local black conservatives. Among the attendees was Herman Cain, the former presidential hopeful; Alveda King, a niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; and Melvin Everson, a former state legislator.  The event served as a reunion of sorts for black Trump supporters from across the nation. Political adviser Katrina Pierson named over a dozen states she said attendees hailed from, including Georgia, Florida, Ohio and Texas. “You forgot Arkansas!” a few people shouted.  Trump gave one of the most prominent speaking slots, though, to a lesser-known supporter: Kelvin King, an Atlanta contractor and Air Force veteran who credited Trump’s economic agenda for helping his business thrive and thanked the president for “making the black community a priority.”  “Our future success depends on our success in ignoring the distractions we see on a daily basis,” King said. “Don’t sit on the sidelines because of emotions or feelings.”  David Solomon, who came to the event from Miami, is the type of voter that Trump is hoping to win over. He said he was drawn to Trump because of his support for school choice and opposition to abortion, and that he plans to challenge other black voters to question their party ideology.  “Why not try something different?” he said. “We’ve already given them a shot for 50-some-odd years, and what have they done for us?” Bria Felicien contributed to this report.
  • President Donald Trump is headed to Atlanta on Friday for a one-day trip that includes a roundtable discussion with donors who signed six-figure checks, a fundraiser to boost U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s re-election bid and the rollout of a campaign initiative targeting black voters. Trump is set to touch down at Dobbins Air Reserve Base around 11 a.m., head to the roundtable and fundraiser in Buckhead for lunch and then go downtown to the Georgia World Congress Center for his midafternoon speech before returning to Dobbins. Expect major traffic snarls throughout the city. Here’s what to know about the day: ‘Black Voices for Trump’ The headline-grabbing event of the day will be the unveiling of the “Black Voices for Trump” coalition in downtown Atlanta. The president is set to speak after 2 p.m. at the invite-only event, along with Vice President Mike Pence and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. Trump is expected to highlight recent statistics that show low unemployment rates for black workers as well as an opportunity zone program that Republicans tucked into their 2017 tax-cut legislation to encourage investors to pump money into struggling areas. But Republicans face a daunting challenge wooing black voters in Georgia, where Stacey Abrams and other Democrats won the African American electorate by a huge margin in 2018. Exit polls showed 94% of black voters backed Abrams over Republican Brian Kemp in last year’s race for governor. The national data for Trump is grim, too. In 2016, only 8% of black voters cast ballots for Trump and, according to a 2018 Pew Research Center poll, only 8% of black voters identify in some way with the Republican Party. There’s much buzz about how many black Republicans will show up at Trump’s kickoff at the downtown convention center and which Georgians will be tapped to lead the new group. He has several prominent African American conservatives to choose from, including Alveda King, a niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.; Bruce Levell, a Dunwoody jeweler who was a leader in Trump’s black outreach group in 2016; and Ashley Bell, a White House policy adviser. Senate speculation Word that Trump will arrive in Atlanta on Air Force One with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins in tow has sparked a frenzy of rumors in Georgia political circles that the Gainesville Republican will be Gov. Brian Kemp’s pick for the U.S. Senate. Collins remains one of the best-known contenders for the office, but unless there’s a drastic change of plans, Kemp is not expected to announce his appointment for the soon-to-be vacated U.S. Senate seat in time for Trump’s visit. More than 500 people have submitted resumes since the governor posted his online “help wanted” sign for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down at year’s end for health reasons. The list is studded with well-known names — including current and former officeholders, business executives, a U.S. ambassador, decorated military veterans and radio commentators. A sitting Democratic state senator even raised his hand for the job. Still, the president might use the event to drop a hint about whom he favors — increasing the pressure on Kemp. As the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Collins has been one of Trump’s top defenders in Congress. And last month, the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., headlined a fundraiser that raised about $300,000 for Collins and called him “the kind of fighter we need in the Senate.” Trump’s Atlanta events will be filled, too, with other potential Senate appointees who may try to quietly make their case for the position. Promoting Perdue Trump is preparing to host a high-dollar fundraiser in Atlanta to help defend Perdue, one of the staunchest critics of the Democratic-led impeachment effort. The president recently set up a joint fundraising committee with the Republican in time for Friday’s fundraiser at an undisclosed Atlanta locale that will run attendees $2,800 to get in the door and a six-figure check to attend a roundtable. The money-in-politics tracker OpenSecrets.org reports that Perdue is the first congressional candidate to directly receive support from a Trump-backed fundraising committee. Perdue is one of Trump’s most ardent defenders in the U.S. Senate and was standing by him at Game 5 of the World Series last week when baseball fans at Nationals Park in Washington greeted the president with boos and chants of “Lock him up!” Four Democrats running for Perdue’s seat have tried to paint him as a Trump stooge too blinded by his loyalty to do what’s best for his constituents. At a campaign event on Saturday, Democrat Teresa Tomlinson labeled Perdue “the enabler, the influencer, the co-pilot of this president.” Attendees will have to dig deep into their wallets: A place at the roundtable will cost supporters a $100,000 check. It follows with a luncheon that will run attendees $2,800 for a seat at the table — and at least $35,000 for a photo with the president. Protests and counterprogramming The president’s critics plan to make his one-day trip to Atlanta as uncomfortable as possible. One group is planning his “biggest UNwelcome yet” to start at Centennial Park at 2 p.m., just before Trump is set to speak at the Georgia World Congress Center. Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff is spoofing Trump’s invite to announce his own counterprogramming event: a happy hour Friday evening at Manuel’s Tavern, a hangout for cops, journalists and politicos. And state Democrats will hold a press conference at 8:30 a.m. at the Georgia Capitol to highlight how Trump’s agenda “hurts Georgia’s black community.”
  • A federal lawsuit filed Wednesday asked a judge to require quick notification to Georgia voters when their absentee ballots are rejected, giving them time to correct problems and have their votes counted. The lawsuit, filed by the Democratic Party, said voters often aren’t told about mismatched or missing signatures on their absentee ballots until it’s too late. “Every Georgian should have the right to cast their vote and make sure it counts,” said Nikema Williams, chairwoman for the Democratic Party of Georgia. “Our elections need clear and fair standards to ensure that no one is disenfranchised and that no community is unfairly targeted.” Election officials threw out 8,157 absentee ballots in last November’s election, about 3% of all absentee ballots returned by mail. Many of those rejections occurred in Gwinnett County, which imposed strict standards for accepting absentee ballots and rejected 1,733 of them. State law requires election officials to “promptly notify” voters of problems with their signatures, but some voters who mailed their ballots near Election Day weren’t informed in time to submit a revised provisional ballot along with identification information. Voters have three days after Election Day to correct issues with an absentee ballot, according to a new state law. Election officials should notify voters of missing signatures by phone, email or text messages within one day after receiving their absentee ballots, according to the lawsuit by the Democratic Party of Georgia, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The lawsuit also wants Gwinnett to change the design on its absentee ballot envelopes, which included small type. Gwinnett officials declined to comment on the pending litigation.
  • A month after a federal judge temporarily blocked Georgia’s new anti-abortion law from taking effect, a group that opposes the procedure plans to display graphic images and videos of aborted fetuses at four public universities this week, starting Monday at Georgia Tech. Gov. Brian Kemp earlier this year signed legislation that would have outlawed most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity — usually around six weeks of pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant.  “A preborn child is no less human than a born child,” Mark Harrington, president of the group, Created Equal, said in a news release. “Thus, to treat the preborn in a way we’d never treat a born person is a grievous violation of human equality. College students deserve to see the victims of this injustice and to know the science and reasoning behind defending the preborn.”  Created Equal has permits to visit Georgia Tech, Georgia State and Kennesaw State universities and the University of Georgia. The group plans to use a Jumbotron at various locations at the schools to display images to make “the case that abortion is age discrimination.”  All four schools, along with the University System of Georgia, said in statements that the organization properly completed paperwork to appear under their various freedom of expression policies.  “We are aware of Created Equal’s plans and have been in contact with organizers,” Georgia Tech said in a statement. “We have reserved space for this outside group in a designated outdoor area, which is consistent with how we handle all requests like this one. As a public university, we are committed to supporting freedom of expression on our campus.”  Georgia State sent a message to students alerting them about the organization’s planned presence on its main campus Wednesday in downtown Atlanta. The message was clear that the university is not excited about the upcoming appearance.  “You may wonder why your university would allow speech that is hateful or mean-spirited,” the message said. “However, the university has an important constitutional duty to uphold the free speech rights of all people, without regard to the content of their speech.”  The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia sued the state, saying the new anti-abortion law violates a woman’s constitutional right to access abortion as determined by the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.  States across the country passed bills similar to Georgia’s this year, which anti-abortion activists said they hope will overturn the Supreme Court ruling. Federal judges in each state have temporarily blocked the respective laws from going into effect.  Lawyers will likely return to court early next year to argue the specifics of Georgia’s law. Attorneys for the ACLU said the new law is essentially a ban on abortions, but lawyers for the state said the procedure still could be performed before cardiac activity is detected. Created Equal conducted similar events at some Michigan schools about three weeks ago. Telephone calls to the organization Friday were not immediately returned.
  • After months of planning and fraught political debate, Gov. Brian Kemp is set to detail a proposal that may pave the way for a limited Medicaid expansion that could add thousands of residents to the state’s rolls. The governor has long ruled out a full expansion of the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act, something he campaigned against during the 2018 race. But he has said he’s open to a more scaled-back effort to grow the program in a way “that’s focused on Georgia.” He has not made the plans public yet, but he has frequently alluded to health care plans that could help “hardworking Georgians.” The Republican is set to outline the policy Monday at the Georgia Capitol. Several health care advocacy groups calling for a full expansion of Medicaid have announced plans to hold their own press conference. And the Department of Community Health has set a specially called board meeting after Kemp’s event to vote on his “Georgia Pathways” proposal. His Medicaid policy is meant to harmonize with a separate set of proposals he introduced Thursday that seek to lower insurance premiums and undercut the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care law championed by then-President Barack Obama that Kemp and other Republicans see as too costly and inefficient. Those plans seek to lower insurance premiums by setting aside more than $300 million in public money that the government could pay insurance firms to cover high-cost claims, and shifting $2.7 billion in federal subsidies from federal to state control to reduce costs to lower-income policyholders. All the waiver proposals would have to withstand scrutiny from the federal government before they are implemented — no certainty despite Kemp’s ties to President Donald Trump. Kemp’s advisers have said they’re in frequent contact with White House officials and are confident the plans will win approval. And any money required to run the waiver programs would have to come through the state’s Legislature. A delicate balance Kemp is pushing the health care changes despite pushback from Democrats, who staunchly opposed legislation that passed this year restoring the governor’s power to pursue the waivers. The party’s top officials said they support nothing short of full-scale Medicaid expansion, which analysts say would add more than 500,000 Georgians to the state’s rolls. House Minority Leader Bob Trammell said it’s the “most cost-effective way” to help struggling Georgians access health care. “The waiver represents a deliberate decision not to cover many Georgians who would be covered by Medicaid expansion,” Trammell said. “Bottom line, the waiver costs more per person, covers fewer people and takes longer to get started than a straightforward expansion of Medicaid,” he said. The cost of the plan, too, will play a major factor in next year’s legislative session. State Rep. Terry England, the chairman of the House’s budget-writing committee, said he’s not yet been fully briefed on either proposal but that he doesn’t oppose devoting more state dollars to pay for health coverage for more adults through Medicaid. But he said that budget request, along with Kemp’s separate plan to spend at least $104 million to lower insurance premiums, would have to compete with other priorities. They include a promised teacher pay increase of $2,000 and tax-cutting proposals. “I mean, there’s so many things going on,” England said, nodding to hopes that the economy could soon heat up. “So if it were to do that, then you know it gives us a lot of options. If it doesn’t, of course, the number of options we have are extremely limited.” Medicaid details to come The law explicitly forbade Kemp from pursuing a full Medicaid expansion — which he has opposed as too costly in the long term in any case — and gave the governor a deadline of June 2020 to apply for the waiver. His administration has said it aims to submit the proposals by the year’s end. An estimate prepared by state analysts earlier this year pegged the cost of full Medicaid expansion at about $200 million a year. That amount would be matched 9-to-1 by the federal government, potentially pouring billions of federal dollars into the state’s health care industry. But Kemp, echoing other Georgia conservatives, has said that such a move would reduce access to quality care, lead to “sky-high premiums” and allow an expansion of government. On the campaign trail, Kemp outlined plans to stop premiums on the health insurance exchange market from rising so fast. But the possibility of a Medicaid waiver — an idea that Gov. Nathan Deal didn’t forcefully pursue — only emerged after Kemp’s election last year. While he’s said he’s open to a range of options, Kemp has dropped hints that his proposal could adopt elements of other waivers from other Republican-led states, such as an attempt to tie eligibility to a requirement that recipients have jobs, are enrolled in school or are engaged in community service. Such requirements will run into opposition from many advocates who say they create a reporting bureaucracy and aren’t productive. And legally, threading that needle will be difficult, in light of a spate of federal lawsuits that have forced states to revamp how they handle health plans that link benefits with employment. Federal judges have blocked or stalled work requirements in Arkansas, Kentucky and New Hampshire. And officials in Arizona and Indiana voluntarily moved away from compelling poor people to work in order to qualify for their Medicaid programs.
  • Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled a set of waiver proposals Thursday that would remake the individual health insurance market in Georgia, aiming to lower premiums and undo federal control of the Affordable Care Act’s exchange system. The proposals, which Kemp’s aides describe as the first of its kind, involves an ambitious set of components that each must be approved by the federal government to take effect. One part would set aside more than $300 million in public money that the government could pay insurance companies to cover high-cost claims — thus hoping to lower premium prices. A separate and more contentious effort would take on the structure of the ACA exchange market by moving it from federal to state control — bringing with it the $2.7 billion in federal subsidies that reduce costs to lower-income policyholders. 'We live in a divided country and in a diverse state,' Kemp said, outlining the proposal in his Capitol office before a bank of TV cameras. 'But it's safe to say that Republicans, Democrats and independents agree on one thing: The insurance premiums are too dang high.' As a part of the overhaul, Georgians could no longer access the federal website at healthcare.gov to enroll in ACA programs. The website would guide residents to private web brokers or encourage them to register directly with insurance companies, which is something they can’t do now. “No one has done this yet,” said Katie Keith, a professor of health law at Georgetown University. “This is exactly what the Trump administration encouraged states to do, and no one yet has taken them up on it. So this is going to be a really big deal.” Related: The fragile state of Georgia health care Related: By the numbers: Health care in Georgia Related: Sometimes, Georgia health care costs are a simple matter of location There’s no guarantee that Donald Trump’s administration will sign off on the plan despite Kemp’s ties to the president. But the governor and his advisers have expressed confidence that it will pass muster, and they stress that they’ve been in direct contact with the White House throughout the process. Democrats, who broadly opposed legislation that empowered Kemp to seek the waiver, criticized the governor’s plans to cut state spending by $500 million over the next two years and blasted his opposition to expanding Medicaid, which he sees as too costly in the long run. “While I’m glad that Governor Kemp is beginning to understand what Democrats have been saying for years, his plan doesn’t go far enough,” said state Sen. Gloria Butler, who said Kemp’s proposal would still leave hundreds of thousands of Georgians without adequate health insurance. “We need to get politics out of health care,” she said. Why reinsurance? The wide-ranging proposals that Kemp outlined are not even the most closely watched facet of his health care policy. That will come Monday when he details another waiver proposal that could pave the way for a limited expansion of Medicaid. But this separate program he rolled out Thursday, known as a 1332 waiver, would still affect hundreds of thousands of private insurance plans sold to individuals, both on and off the ACA exchange. Those people, Kemp pointed out, have endured soaring premium prices and out-of-pocket costs. The first piece of his plan, a government program to subsidize insurance coverage, is seen by some health analysts and politicians as a way to combat that. Related: Kemp backs new health plan for rural Georgians Related: Georgia adds 36,000 to uninsured rolls, ranks third worst in U.S. Related: Proposed budget cuts could have big impact on health care in Georgia The ACA exchange nationwide started with such subsidies at the federal level, in fact, and experts say part of the reason prices began to spike afterward was that the program ended. Since then, such programs have been suggested for individual states that wanted to stabilize their markets and lower consumer prices. Twelve states have applied and received federal approval. Experts that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution consulted said Georgia’s plan would be among the best-financed of those programs, and therefore more likely to have an impact for consumers. Kemp’s aides said they expected the program to take $104 million in state dollars and $264 million in federal dollars the first year. Those dollars would go directly to insurance companies, to satisfy up to 80% of the value of eligible claims filed. Georgia’s Legislature is full of lawmakers who identify as fiscal conservatives. One of them, House Speaker Jan Jones, R-Milton, stood with Kemp at his announcement. Asked afterward about the $300 million in public money, she said, “I haven’t seen the details yet ... but I’m confident it’s going to give Georgians more affordable options.” Taking aim at premiums Georgia’s market has stabilized on its own, but premiums are still sky-high. Kemp’s aides estimate that by taking the burden of many larger claims off of the insurance companies, they can lower premiums by as much as 25% for some people in rural or underserved parts of the state. The program carves the state into 16 regions, doling out heftier subsidies to areas with higher premiums. Southwest Georgia, where a spate of hospitals have struggled or closed, would receive more subsidies than metro Atlanta, which benefits from more competition. . The decreases would benefit higher-income people the most. People who have income up to 400% of the federal poverty level already receive federal subsidies to lower their premiums. That’s about 90% of the people who buy plans on the exchange. People at the lower end can often pay premiums that, after subsidies, cost less than $100 a month. Related: State House panel grapples with Georgia maternal mortality crisis Related: Georgia faces rural doctor shortage Related: Georgia Legislature’s impact on health care this year was ‘pretty big’ Those who are at least at 400% of the poverty level — $103,000 per year for a family of four — currently receive no subsidy and pay full price. If the estimates bear out, some of those families could save hundreds of dollars a month. Some advocates for privatization cheered the move. Kyle Wingfield, the president of the conservative Georgia Public Policy Foundation, has long suggested adding adding subsidies for insurers as part of Georgia’s exchange, and he welcomed the Kemp initiative on Thursday.  'If you’ve got a program that is going to lower costs overall and help people afford their own insurance and you end up with an overall better health market, it’s probably worth paying that money,” he said. Reinvent the market Far more controversial will be the governor’s plan to reinvent Georgia’s individual insurance market. Kemp has long said he hoped Georgia could even set an example for other states. His proposal seeks to do that by putting some of the Trump administration’s most conservative suggestions into action. Lower- and middle-income Georgians currently receive about $2.7 billion in subsidies from the ACA exchange market, Kemp aides said. Under their plan, Georgia would take control of that money, change how to distribute it, and loosen controls on who gets it. Right now, only a plan that complies with the ACA’s coverage mandates is eligible for federal premium subsidies. Kemp’s plan would allow subsidies for plans that cover less. Pre-existing conditions would have to be covered, aides said, and plans couldn’t charge more for customers who suffer from them. But the plans wouldn’t have to cover all “essential health benefits” identified in the ACA — such as emergency care and mental health services — if the customer decides to risk it and buy a plan without them. Other people who would be eligible for subsidies are employees of small businesses whose employers give them a bonus to buy their own health coverage. A new web portal Right now those skimpier plans are not available on the federal exchange website, healthcare.gov. Under Kemp’s plan, Georgians who tried to access that site would be routed to a page that gave them options including private web brokers that can list plans that cover less. Some ACA supporters were concerned about revoking the option to use healthcare.gov, a neutral platform, and pushing consumers into choosing a web broker they’re not familiar with. Some may steer people to plans that aren’t what they really want, they said. One web broker, healthsherpa.com, is held in high regard by Kemp’s administration and some health care advocates. But not all are as well functioning technically or as clear to consumers in their presentation. Some advocates worry that customers might assume they’re purchasing plans that cover a broad array of health benefits when they’re not. “Some of these plans that don’t offer full essential health benefits, their marketing is very confusing,” said Laura Colbert, the director of Georgians for a Healthy Future. “I would worry a lot that consumers would buy a plan that doesn’t actually work for them.” If approved by the federal government, the plans would require a tremendous amount of work that is currently done at the federal level, necessitating an expansion of a health oversight agency in Kemp’s office. Aides said that detailed questions about implementation, however, were premature.
  • A Cobb County lawmaker wants to make it a felony for medical professionals to help a minor with gender transition. State Rep. Ginny Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, said the legislation aims to protect children from having irreversible procedures done when they are young. Current law requires a parent to consent to surgery or for a minor to be prescribed medication. While the bill is still being drafted, Ehrhart said Georgia medical providers who perform surgeries or administer or prescribe medications that assist minors with gender transition could be charged with a felony. The legislation would not affect doctors working with adults who seek to undergo gender transition. “We’re talking about children that can’t get a tattoo or smoke a cigar or a cigarette in the state of Georgia but can be castrated and get sterilized,” she said. Ehrhart last year defeated Democratic opponent Jen Slipakoff, who often spoke of her transgender daughter during campaign events. Jeff Graham, the executive director of the LGBTQ rights organization Georgia Equality, called Ehrhart’s proposal “shameful.” “This legislation would criminalize decisions that are made carefully within families in consultation with medical professionals and mental health professionals,” he said. “Supporting children in recognizing their gender identity is not only humane, it saves lives and strengthens families.” Specific procedures that Ehrhart said would be banned — if the measure is approved by the General Assembly — include “mastectomy, vasectomy, castration and other forms of genital mutilation” for the purpose of gender transition. Banned medications would include giving minors “puberty-blocking drugs to stop or delay normal puberty and cross-sex hormone therapy.” “The removal of otherwise healthy or non-diseased body parts from minor children would also be prohibited,” her press release states. The pending bill is in line with legislation supported by Ehrhart’s husband, Earl Ehrhart, who served the same Cobb County district in the state House for 30 years before choosing not to seek re-election last year. For example, Earl Ehrhart made headlines in 2016 when he opposed the inclusion of the word “sex” in a civil rights law, saying he didn’t want to make people who are transgender a protected class. Ginny Ehrhart said she was motivated to draft the bill in response to a battle between divorced parents in Texas over a 7-year-old child whose mother says identifies as a girl. The child’s father was seeking to be the child’s sole decision-maker and says the 7-year-old “acts like a boy” around him and that his ex-wife is forcing the child to transition to a girl. A judge last week ruled that the parents would continue to make joint decisions about the child. The case has been shared widely on social media and conservative news sites in recent weeks. Ehrhart said she may include language that could punish parents for allowing a child to undergo gender transition. “There may be some implication for the responsibility of the parent to subject the child to this sort of dangerous medical intervention,” she said. Dr. Izzy Lowell, who runs the Decatur-based gender transition practice Queer Med, called the legislation absurd. Lowell said minors make up about about 25% of Queer Med’s practice. “The five major medical guideline generators that encompass most of the doctors in the country support gender affirming therapy and surgical intervention,” Lowell said. “To criminalize that would criminalize medical treatment backed by all of the major medical associations.” In her press release, Ehrhart included quotes from an Atlanta-based pediatric endocrinologist, Dr. Quentin Van Meter, who said the proposal is needed to protect children from “medical experimentation based on wishful social theory.” “These children are suffering from a psychological condition without biologic basis,” he said. “Using the bludgeon of threatened suicide as justification is first of all cruel, and secondly, not supported by valid published studies.” Van Meter is president of the American College of Pediatricians, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed an anti-LGBTQ hate group. Graham said banning children from aligning physically with their gender identity is troubling. “(Ehrhart’s) contention that this is damaging to children or society is without merit and is a result of the dangerous trend from the most conservative forces to demonize and strip transgender individuals of their humanity,” he said.
  • About 330,000 voter registrations in Georgia could soon be canceled because registrants haven’t participated in elections for several years. The purge comes after Georgia canceled 534,119 registrations in July 2017, the largest single removal of voters in U.S. history. Under a new state law, election officials will notify voters before canceling their registrations, a step that didn’t exist two years ago. The voter list cleanup, announced Monday by the secretary of state’s office, reinforces Georgia’s role as a voting rights and political battleground ahead of next year’s elections for president and two U.S. Senate seats. Last year, voting rights helped define the race for governor between Democrat Stacey Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp, who won by 1.4 percentage points. Opponents of Georgia’s cancellations say they disenfranchise voters who haven’t participated in elections in recent years but might do so in the 2020 presidential election. “Voters should not lose their right to vote simply because they have decided not to express that right in recent elections,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, the CEO for Fair Fight Action, a group founded by Abrams that is suing the state over voting issues. “Having a long history of voter suppression, the Georgia secretary of state’s office has a responsibility to guarantee that not a single voter is wrongly included on the purge list.” State election officials say many inactive voters have moved out of state, and it’s important to maintain up-to-date registration lists. Georgia Elections Director Chris Harvey said notifications will be sent in early November to the last known addresses of each of the inactive voters. If they don’t respond within 30 days, their names will be removed from the voter rolls in December. Voters who return a postage-paid form will remain registered. They can also change their addresses or re-register online, mail a paper registration form or vote on Nov. 5. RELATED: View a sample Georgia voter cancellation notice “Accurate voter lists limit confusion and delays at polling places on Election Day, and make sure voters get to vote the complete ballot to which they are entitled,” Harvey said. “Accurate voters lists also allow county election offices to plan for polling place equipment and staffing needs. Accurate voter lists reduce the opportunities for mistakes or fraud.” Though some voters will save their registrations from cancellation, eliminating roughly 300,000 of Georgia’s 7.4 million registered voters would represent a 4% reduction in the state’s voter rolls. That rate of cancellations makes sense to David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, which advocates for accurate voter lists and secure election technology. He said the removals are reasonable because they’re lower than the number of people projected to have moved out of state in the past two years. “People don’t usually call their state and tell them to take them off their voting list,” Becker said. “The numbers by themselves don’t raise any concerns.” Removing about 300,000 inactive voters who have accumulated over the past two years somewhat aligns with the state’s previous cancellation of more than 500,000 voters in 2017 that had built up over the previous four years. Becker said Georgia’s voting registration practices put it ahead of most other states. Georgia has automatic voter registration at driver’s license offices and online voter registration. It also recently enrolled in a 29-state organization called the Electronic Registration Information Center, which shares information about voters who have moved. Becker is an ERIC board member. Georgia is still finalizing its data-sharing processes with ERIC before using it to update voting lists. Since 2012, Georgia election officials have removed about 1.4 million people from the voting rolls because they died, moved out of state, were convicted of felonies — or stayed home during elections. States should keep accurate voter lists, but they must exercise caution to make sure legitimate voters aren’t inadvertently canceled, said Myrna Pérez, the director for the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. The federal lawsuit filed by Fair Fight Action alleges that Georgia’s elections kept voters from the polls because of canceled or missing registrations, along with other issues such as precinct closures, long lines and malfunctioning voting equipment. “There were a lot of people showing up on Election Day and not finding themselves on the rolls and not understanding why,” Pérez said. “When mistakes are made, we feel it on Election Day. That’s the last place you want to feel it.” The U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 upheld similar voter registration cancellation practices used in Ohio. Ohio election officials released the names of 235,000 voters it planned to purge this year but soon learned from voting rights groups that about 40,000 of them shouldn’t have been targeted. The Georgia secretary of state’s office hasn’t decided whether it will release its purge list in advance. Georgia voters facing cancellation were declared “inactive” after three years in which they failed to participate in elections, contact election officials, respond to election officials’ mail or update their registrations. A change in state law this year lengthens the period before voters become “inactive,” from three years to five years. Then if voters don’t cast a ballot in the next two general elections after they become inactive, their registrations can be canceled. That means for most of the 330,000 Georgia voters who could be canceled, the last time they voted or registered to vote was at least six years ago. Voters who participated in elections more recently could also be canceled if mail from county election offices was returned as undeliverable.

News

  • A 15-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy died Thursday morning after a classmate opened fire on students at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, injuring three other students before he attempted to take his own life, sheriff's deputies said. >> Read more trending news  Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies responded to reports of the shooting just after 7:30 a.m. local time. Authorities found six people suffering gunshot wounds in the school's quad. Deputies said the injured included the suspected shooter. The shooter died Friday afternoon, according to police. Update 7:50 p.m. EST Nov. 15: Police say 16-year-old boy who shot five students at his Los Angeles-area high school has died. Update 7:30 p.m. EST Nov. 15: Authorities have identified the second student killed in a shooting by a fellow student at a Southern California high school. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office says 14-year-old Dominic Blackwell died Thursday along with 15-year-old Gracie Muehlberger. Two teenage girls remain hospitalized but are expected to be released over the weekend. A third student was treated and released. Update 3:20 p.m. EST Nov. 15: Los Angeles County coroner's officials on Friday identified one of the two teenagers slain Thursday after a student opened fire on classmates at Saugus High School as Gracie Anne Muehlberger, 15, according to The Los Angeles Times. The newspaper reported she celebrated her 15th birthday on Oct. 10. A 14-year-old boy killed in the shooting was not immediately identified, according to KCBS-TV. Update 6:37 a.m. EST Nov. 15: The suspect has been identified by two separate law enforcement sources as Nathaniel Berhow, CNN and the Los Angeles Times reported. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has not confirmed his identity due to his age, CNN reported. Neighbors described Berhow as a good student and typical teenager who was affected by the death of his father in 2017, CNN reported. Neighbors said Berhow found his father dead after had a heart attack, KTTV reported. His mother and father had divorced in 2016, CNN reported. There is no motive for the attack, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office.  Members of the community gathered near the campus Thursday night to remember the victims, KNBC reported. The Associated Press reported the gunman shot whoever was near him and that there was no known connection to the victims. Update 3:10 p.m. EST Nov. 14: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Capt. Kent Wegener identified the gunman as a 16-year-old student who opened fire on his classmates on his birthday. Wegener said video from the scene showed the teenager, who was not identified by name, taking a gun out of his backpack in the quad at Saugus High School on Thursday morning. He shot five of his classmates before turning the gun on himself. Sheriff Alex Villanueva told reporters Thursday that the suspect shot himself in the head. He was among six people transported to the hospital after the shooting. Two students died in Thursday's shooting, a girl and a boy. Authorities did not identify the victims by name. Update 2:30 p.m. EST Nov. 14: Authorities in Los Angeles County are holding a news conference Thursday to update the public on Thursday morning's deadly shooting at Saugus High School. Update 1:05 p.m EST Nov. 14: Officials with Henry Mayo Hospital confirmed a female died after being taken to the hospital following a shooting at Saugus High School. It was not immediately clear whether the victim was a student. Hospital officials said three other male victims were taken to the hospital with injuries after shooting. Two of the victims were listed in critical condition while the third was listed in good condition. Update 12:50 p.m. EST Nov. 14: Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said a suspect was in custody after Thursday morning's shooting at Saugus High School. Authorities were expected to provide more details at a news conference scheduled Thursday morning. Update 12:35 p.m. EST Nov. 14: Officials at Henry Mayo Hospital confirmed they had received four patients after a gunman opened fire Thursday at Saugus High School. Hospital officials said the victims included three males and one female. All the victims, aside from one male in good condition, were listed in critical condition in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Update 12:30 p.m. EST Nov. 14: Parent Brian Skiba told KCBS-TV that his daughter ran into a classroom when she heard shots fired Thursday morning at Saugus High School. 'She heard the shots ... she in the quad, where it started, and ran into the band room,' Skiba told the news station. '(She) locked the door behind her and told everybody to get down.' Skiba told KCBS-TV a police officer was in the band room with about 50 students Thursday. 'I'm still pretty shook up,' Skiba said. Update 12:10 p.m. EST Nov. 14: Sheriff's deputies told KNBC-TV that they were surrounding two locations Thursday morning in Santa Clarita, including a home believed to be the suspect's residence. KTLA reported authorities believe the gunman was a student at Saugus High School. Officials asked residents in the area to stay inside and keep their doors locked as they continued to investigate Thursday. Update 12 p.m. EST Nov. 14: White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere said President Donald Trump was monitoring reports of Thursday morning's shooting in Santa Clarita. 'The White House encourages all those in the area to follow the advice of local law enforcement and first responders,' Deere said. Update 11:50 a.m. EST Nov. 14: Officials with Henry Mayo Hospital in Valencia said two people were taken to the hospital in critical condition after Thursday morning's shooting at Saugus High School. Hospital officials said three other victims were en route to the hospital Thursday morning. Their conditions were not immediately known. Update 11:45 a.m. EST Nov. 14: Deputies asked residents in the area of Saugus High School to lock their doors and shelter in place as they continue to search for a shooter who opened fire Thursday morning at the school. Update 11:30 a.m. EST Nov. 14: Authorities revised down the number of people injured in Thursday morning's shooting from seven to three, according to KNBC-TV. Sheriff's deputies warned the incident was active and ongoing Thursday morning. Original report: Deputies said nearby schools were placed under lockdown as authorities investigated. Officials with the Los Angeles County Fire Department told KNBC that at least seven people were shot. Their conditions were not immediately known. Check back for updates to this developing story.
  • A 9-year-old child prodigy in Belgium is expected to graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. >> Read more trending news  Laurent Simons, of Belgium, started studying electrical engineering at Eindhoven University of Technology when he was 8 and will complete a three-year program in 10 months, The New York Times reported. His final project is an electrical chip that is connected to the brain. “Then, I want to study medicine and do a Ph.D. and make artificial organs,” he told The New York Times. He was raised by his grandparents while his parents worked in the Netherlands. They are all doctors. He now lives with his parents. “His grandparents always taught us he’s very special,” father Alexander Simons told The Times. “We thought they were taking him too seriously.” Laurent, who has an IQ of 145, started school at 4 and was in high school at 6 years old.  'Laurent is the fastest student we have ever had here,' Sjoerd Hulshof, the director of education at the university, said in a statement, CNN reported. 'Not only is he hyper intelligent but also a very sympathetic boy.' His instructors rave about his academic abilities. “Laurent’s absorption capacity is very high, which means that everything goes much faster and we can cover a lot more material in a short span of time,” Peter Baltus, a professor at the university and the boy’s mentor, told the Times. “It’s been quite special and enjoyable.” In his off-time, Laurent has interests similar to most kids, playing video games, posting on social media and watching Netflix.  Ultimately, he would like to develop artificial hearts. “My goal as a scientist is life extension,” he told AD, an online publication in the Netherlands. “My grandfather and grandmother are heart patients and I want to help them.”
  • The 19-year-old driver who struck three people, including two children, at a Forsyth County school bus stop now faces numerous charges including DUI.Deputies with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department say Christopher Ray Frachiseur may have been under the influence of drugs when he failed to stop for the bus on Buford Highway near Bonnie Brea Road just before 7 a.m. Friday. His Toyota Camry jumped the curb, traveled down the sidewalk and struck the three victims who were waiting at the end of their driveway to board the bus which had its signal arm out.
  • A Philadelphia 14-year-old has been charged with murder in the death of a well-known animal rescuer who was found tied to his bed, naked, and bludgeoned to death last week. The girl is also charged with robbery, possession of an instrument of crime, obstruction and tampering with evidence in the killing of Albert 'Al' Chernoff, according to Philadelphia court records. Her name is being withheld due to her age and the uncertainty of her status as a defendant. Jane Roh, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, told CNN on Monday that prosecutors had not yet decided whether the girl would be tried as an adult. CBS Philadelphia reported last week that investigators were also looking into whether the girl was a victim of a crime. Her connection to Chernoff and her reason for being at his home were not clear, but the CBS affiliate reported the day after Chernoff was found dead that detectives believed he may have been the victim of an escort who tied him up, robbed him and killed him. Court records show the teen is being held without bail at the Philadelphia Juvenile Justice Services Center. >> Read more trending news  Chernoff, who went by the nickname 'Alley Cat,' was found dead around 3 a.m. Nov. 5 in his home in the Rhawnhurst neighborhood of northeast Philadelphia, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. He was suffering from a massive head injury and multiple slashes to his chest, the newspaper reported. The 59-year-old previously appeared on the NatGeoTV reality show 'Rescue Ink,' which profiled tattooed bikers working against animal abuse. Police were called to Chernoff's home by a concerned neighbor who requested a welfare check, the newspaper said. Chernoff, who authorities believe was attacked around 10:30 p.m. Nov. 4, was pronounced dead at the scene. Tony Branconi, Chernoff's neighbor in the duplex where he lived and died, told the Daily Mail he called police because he 'heard a racket.' 'I have heard such noises before, but this was in the middle of the night,' Branconi, 70, told the publication. 'It was like he was building something.' He said he went outside and saw Chernoff's car parked in an unusual spot on the driveway. When he looked inside, he saw the vehicle had been ransacked. ‘A very brutal murder' Acting Philadelphia Police Commissioner Christine Coulter said last week that the case is an 'extremely troubling' one. 'It was a very brutal murder,' Coulter said, according to video shot by Fox29 in Philadelphia. Sources told ABC6 that Chernoff was killed with a nail-studded two-by-four, though Coulter declined to identify the weapon used in the crime. 'We're not going to release details about the crime scene itself until we have the evidence that we need,' she said. The commissioner said it was hard to grasp anyone committing such a grisly crime, but that it was even harder to imagine a child being involved. 'But then you have to look to why did this happen, and, you know, that's what the investigators are going to attempt to find out,' Coulter said. Philadelphia detectives trying to identify Chernoff's killer released surveillance footage Nov. 6 from inside the Army veteran's house. The footage showed the suspect, wearing red sweatpants, a black jacket and a pink top, walking through the living room of the home and into the kitchen, where she washed her hands and looked in the fridge and freezer before leaving. Some of Chernoff's 11 cats can be seen in the footage as his suspected killer walks though his living room. Listen to Coulter speak about the crime and see footage from inside Chernoff's home below. Witnesses also reported seeing a young woman leaving Chernoff's house shortly before his body was found, the Inquirer reported. The 14-year-old girl, accompanied by her mother and two defense attorneys, turned herself in to police Nov. 8 after family members saw the footage, CNN reported. Coulter told Fox29 that the girl's family brought her in 'because she was clearly the person on the video.' Once the girl was in custody, police officials removed the footage from their website. On Twitter, at least one person wondered if the footage was removed because the girl was a possible sex trafficking victim. 'Everybody talking about how good of a man Al Chernoff was,' another man tweeted. 'I just want to know why a 14-year-old alleged prostitute was in his home. I'm sorry, but if he was having sex with her, he got exactly what he deserved.' Howard Taylor, one of the girl's lawyers, told CNN the situation was a sad one. 'Troubled girl. There's a reason police aren't saying much,' Taylor told the network. 'There's a lot more to it.' When a reporter asked if the girl was a victim of some kind, Taylor said he 'wouldn't put it to that extent.' He said Chernoff 'wasn't totally innocent, either,' CNN reported. Coulter described Chernoff as a 'guy who went to work every day, well liked by his neighbors and co-workers.' She said Chernoff, who was a building maintenance supervisor at the Philadelphia International Airport, did not appear to have a criminal record. ‘A fierce and tireless advocate' Animal welfare activists in Philadelphia were stunned by Chernoff's death. 'If you help animals in Philadelphia, you've met Al,' Blake Martin of Philadelphia's Animal Care and Control Team told ABC6. 'He is a wild veteran who loves motorcycles and will talk your ear off about his motorcycles and cats.' Chernoff, who was known for building shelters for feral strays in the city, also founded a one-man rescue group, Alley Cat Animal Rescue. 'His generosity was incredible,' Martin said. 'You don't see a lot of that anymore, especially towards the animal community. 'It's been a tough day.' The Facebook page of 'The Cat Rescuers,' a documentary about cat rescue in New York City, described Chernoff as 'one of many amazing rescuers' filmmakers met during filming. The crew met Chernoff during a workshop on 'trap-neuter-return,' a method of managing the stray and feral cat population that Chernoff was known to use. 'He wasn't one of the main four we were following, but we were so taken by his warmth and affability when we encountered him at a (trap-neuter-return) workshop that we just knew we had to put him in our film,' the post read. A brief clip from the documentary shows Chernoff showing off his many cat tattoos. He tells the camera that he had a cat as a child. 'I just was always into cats,' Chernoff says. 'Cats and Harleys and tattoos. That's what I'm into.' Chernoff's Facebook page is filled with photos of his cats, 11 of them, along with photos of his building projects. Motorcycles and military memorabilia are also heavily featured on his page. Last month, he posted a wedding photo of his parents, along with his Army basic training photo, writing that he had just stumbled upon the pictures. Chernoff was not married and had no immediate family left, according to Philadelphia's Jewish Exponent. 'We tried the best we could to keep him family-oriented because he had no parents, he had no siblings and he had no children,' Chernoff's cousin, Beverly Levin, told the Exponent. 'He was with us for Rosh Hashanah just last month. We kept him as close as we could because he was alone in the world.' Since his death, friends in the animal rescue community and beyond have mourned Chernoff on social media. They have also contributed more than $18,000 to a GoFundMe page set up by Levin's son, David Levin, to pay for Chernoff's funeral and provide for more cats to be rescued. 'Al's kids were his cats,' David Levin wrote on the fundraising page. A private donor, along with Chernoff's veteran benefits, have taken care of the cost of his funeral and memorial service, which is scheduled for Nov. 24 in Southampton. All the funds raised by the GoFundMe campaign will be distributed to multiple animal rescues, David Levin wrote in an update. Chernoff's 11 cats, along with three turtles and two frogs, were rescued from his home following his death. Friend and fellow rescuer Gwen Cooper wrote that she was “shocked and saddened beyond the telling of it” to learn of Chernoff’s death. 'Al was a fierce and tireless advocate for rescue cats -- one of the staunchest protectors of cats I've ever known -- and I was honored and privileged to count him among my personal friends in rescue for many years,' Cooper wrote. 'My heart goes out to the people and felines who knew and loved him best.' She said she was certain the 'veritable army of cats' he saved over the years were there to greet him on the 'rainbow bridge' when he died. Chernoff was also active in the Jewish war veterans' community, the Exponent reported. 'He went out of his way many a time for people who suffered what used to be called shell shock and what is now called PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),' M.B. Kanis, commander of the Jewish War Veterans Drizin-Weiss Post 215, told the publication. 'He recognized PTSD and knew that people with service animals could become more calm and relaxed and more focused. In the Philadelphia area, I know of at least three service veterans who he helped hands-on (with service animals).' Emily Petry, who described Chernoff as the 'best cat daddy ever,' said he was one of the kindest people she'd ever known. 'Nobody who ever knew you would have ever done you any harm,' Petry wrote. Ashley Foresta, a fellow animal rescuer in Philadelphia, told the Daily Mail she could not imagine why the 14-year-old suspect was in Chernoff's house. Foresta speculated that perhaps Chernoff had hired the girl to clean his home, but Branconi told the Mail he had never seen the girl at the duplex before. 'I just can't imagine for one minute that Al was the type of person who would have had an inappropriate relationship with a 14-year-old girl -- but at the same time I can't think of anyone ever having a reason to kill him,' Foresta said. 'To be honest, maybe part of me doesn't want to know the whole truth,' she said. Chernoff's family and friends weren't the only ones puzzled by his slaying. Coulter said last week that detectives were still piecing together what happened and why. 'Who it is, is identified, but the why and the rationale behind it is what the investigators are now working on,' Coulter told reporters. 'These things take time to get right. 'I know that everybody would like to have everything answered, and so would we, but we want to make sure that we do it in a way that the judicial process plays out fairly and everybody involved gets justice.
  • Lyft is eliminating its scooter operation in Atlanta, nearly a year after the devices were deployed in the city, a spokesperson confirmed Friday in an emailed statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  The electric scooters will leave the city Nov. 22. The company launched in Atlanta Dec. 21, just two days after rival Uber began its own scooter service in the city.  “We’re grateful to our scooter riders in Atlanta as well as our partners in Atlanta city government,” read the statement. “We look forward to continuing to provide riders with other modes of reliable transportation.” The decision comes amid discussions about Atlanta’s regulation of electric scooters. The city is considering reducing the number of scooter companies operating in the city. RELATED COVERAGE: City of Atlanta fails to collect $200K in scooter impound fees The Lyft spokesperson said they’re focusing on markets that have the biggest impact. The spokesperson also confirmed the company is eliminating services in five other cities, including Dallas, San Antonio and Nashville.  Twenty employees are expected to be laid off as a result of the decision.  Lyft is the latest micromobility company to leave Atlanta. Uber’s electric bikes, JUMP e-bikes, left the city in September.  Like Intown Atlanta News Now on Facebook | Follow us on Twitter In other news:
  • The 2019 Leonid meteor shower peaks this weekend. >> Read more trending news  With clear skies, there's a good chance you may be able to see a meteor Sunday night and see the peak in meteor showers early Monday morning. According to the American Meteor Society, spectators can expect up to nine meteors an hour during this year’s peak time, which is expected to be around 5 a.m. Monday. 'Skywatchers may be able to see some meteors on days just before and after the peak, although the moon will continue to obstruct views,' according to Space.com. The meteors can be seen each year in November when Earth's orbit crosses with the comet 55P Tempel-Tuttle. The comet was discovered by German astronomer Ernst Wilhelm Tempel and American astronomer Horace P. Tuttle in 1865. Both astronomers discovered the comet independently. The comet “makes fairly frequent passes through the inner solar system,” according to David Samuhel, senior meteorologist and astronomy blogger at AccuWeather. “This lays out fresh debris in the path of the Earth's orbit every 33 years.” When it does make a close approach to the planet, stargazers get to revel in explosive showers. In 1833, stargazers reported seeing as many as 72,000 shooting stars per hour, according to National Geographic. Later, in 1966, a group of hunters reported seeing 40 to 50 streaks per second over the duration of 15 minutes. Scientists currently predict the next major outburst won't take place until 2099. But, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported, the comet will be returning closer to Earth in 2031 and 2064, meaning more intense storms are on the horizon. Smaller showers, like the one occurring this weekend, happen annually. While the 2019 shower won’t bring hundreds of shooting stars an hour, it’s sure to be a delight in areas with clear skies and the absence of moonlight. How to watch the meteor shower Clear skies are essential for prime meteor shower viewing. Skyglow, the light pollution caused by localized streetlights, will block out the stars and negatively affect your viewing experience, so head somewhere far from city lights. When you’re outside in the dark, lie flat on your back with your feet facing south and look up at the vast sky. Give yourself 30 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the environment. Be sure to bring warm clothing, a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair and leave your telescope at home.