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    When the first Democratic presidential primary debate kicks off Wednesday night, Kirkland Dent will be watching. Dent, 28, a medical librarian at Mercer University in Macon, has been trying to keep up with the sprawling Democratic field aiming to unseat President Donald Trump — “I can probably name 80% of them,” he said. But he is looking forward to seeing them in action. “I’m curious about what their goals are, what issues they want to tackle.” So are Judy Hauser, Michael Murphy-McCarthy and John Chastain. They are among about a dozen Democratic and independent voters in Georgia who have agreed to take part in an informal focus group organized by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to discuss the 2020 Democratic primary race. The AJC checked in with them for the first time ahead of the debates Wednesday and Thursday in Miami, the first opportunity many voters will get to see the candidates answer questions for a national audience. THE LATEST | Georgia Presidential candidate visit tracker MORE | Democratic presidential hopefuls emphasize Georgia’s big role in 2020 For the most part, the Georgia voters said they have been paying some attention to the race but want to know more. That’s true of Democratic voters nationally, too. According to a poll released this week by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs, only 35% of Democrats who are registered to vote say they’re paying close attention to the campaign. The size of the field doesn’t help, and most of the Georgia voters who talked to the AJC said they are eager for it to thin out a bit. The debates, which will feature 10 candidates on stage each night, won’t give the contenders a lot of time to make their case. “It’s going to be really, really hard to stand out in that big a crowd,” said Murphy-McCarthy, who lives in Peachtree Corners and works in IT. “It will be easier to fall down than to stand out.” Dent said a number of candidates have stood out for him so far: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang. But he’s open to being surprised by lesser-known candidates. “It’s important for our generation to start paying attention a lot more,” he said. RELATED | Biden reverses stance on Hyde abortion amendment at Atlanta event MORE | Georgia’s ‘heartbeat’ law targeted by Democratic presidential hopefuls Chastain, 73, lives in largely Republican Cherokee County. “If I say I am a Democrat, it’s like I have the plague,” he joked. He said he’s very interested in the Democratic primary race and wants to hear candidates get specific at the debates. “I’m looking for some action plans,” he said, “I want to know what they are going to do, not just getting Trump out.” He’s retired and said health care is a top issue. Hauser, a registered nurse from Buckhead, wants a candidate who can win. “We need someone who is going to be able to take on Trump and his mouth,” she said. She said she likes Biden but is also interested in Buttigieg and Harris. Biden, she said, “has very good core values. Yes, he’s made some mistakes, but who hasn’t?” His age doesn’t bother her. “I see him as a one-term president that will bring this country back on even keel,” she said. Murphy-McCarthy, 51, said he’s been impressed by Warren but says he’s open to the others. “I’m OK with somebody coming out of nowhere,” he said. DEEPER COVERAGE | Which Democratic candidates have raised the most in Georgia PHOTOS | Top Democratic presidential contenders campaign in Atlanta Howard Giambrone of Coweta County is an independent who has mostly voted for Republicans in the past, but he is considering a Democrat in 2020. It won’t be Bernie Sanders or Warren, who he says are too liberal. He said he is looking for a candidate who is fiscally responsible, supportive of the military and has what he considers a moderate view on immigration. Giambrone’s wife is from Colombia and he doesn’t like Trump’s immigration policies. “I want to strengthen the border but make coming here (legally) less difficult,” he said. So far he thinks Biden and Cory Booker are possibilities. What can the candidates say to win him over? “I want to hear fresh ideas and get away from trashing Trump,” he said. William Black, 38, is a housekeeper in Jones County. He said his top issues are race relations and global warming, and his favorite candidates so far are Sanders and Biden. He isn’t too worried about the size of the field. “They will weed themselves out,” he said. He’s happy to see the enthusiasm. “It’s good for the Democratic Party that there’s that level of interest of people who want to change the country.” How to follow Democratic presidential debates NBC will host the first Democratic presidential debates Wednesday and Thursday, starting at 9 and concluding at 11 each night. Each night will feature 10 candidates. The debates will be broadcast by NBC News and also appear on MSNBC and Telemundo. Telemundo will broadcast the debate in Spanish. They also will stream online free on NBC News’ digital platforms, including NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, the NBC News Mobile App and OTT apps on Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, in addition to Telemundo’s digital platforms. NBC News will also stream the debates live and in full on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
  • Stacey Abrams urged members of Congress to bolster federal voting protections on Tuesday, six years to the day after the U.S. Supreme Court nullified key sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act for being outdated. The Democratic runner-up for governor said the court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder opened the door for states such as Georgia to institute a plethora of policies that have made it harder for people, especially African Americans and Latinos, to vote. “The Shelby decision created a new channel for the troubling practice of voter suppression during a time of dramatic demographic change,” Abrams told members of a House Judiciary subcommittee. Georgia and other states that were once required to run proposed voting changes by the U.S. Justice Department have since “raced to reinstate or create new hurdles to voter registration, ballot access and ballot counting,” she added. Testifying before Congress for the second time this year, Abrams leveled criticism at Republican rival Brian Kemp, saying he oversaw an election system that purged thousands of inactive voters from the rolls, rejected absentee ballots under “trivial pretenses” and led to long lines at the polls. A group Abrams launched after last year’s election, Fair Fight Action, made similar claims in a federal lawsuit seeking the reinstatement of the pre-clearance requirement of voting changes for Georgia. The case is still pending. Kemp, the secretary of state who defeated Abrams by some 55,000 votes last year, has dismissed her claims and said he strictly adhered to the state’s voting policies in order to safeguard against illegal voting and fraud. Georgia’s Republican governor wasn’t at Tuesday’s hearing, but Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins said the Voting Rights Act provision that required federal involvement in state and local elections was “inconsistent with the central pillars of federalism.” He said the courts currently offer critics of voting laws adequate recourse and that Congress doesn’t need to step back into the debate. Democrats rally Abrams was one of three voting rights activists who told lawmakers Tuesday to update the formula that underpinned the Voting Right Act’s “pre-clearance” requirement. In its 5-to-4 Shelby decision, the Supreme Court tossed out the nearly 50-year-old formula that had required Georgia and 15 other jurisdictions with histories of voting discrimination to pre-clear their proposed election changes with the Justice Department. The justices ruled that the formula being used at the time was outdated, but they also left the door open for Congress to develop a new formula with more up-to-date evidence of racial discrimination. Lawmakers, however, have yet to agree on an approach in today’s sharply divided Washington. Abrams voiced support for a pair of recently introduced proposals, including legislation co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat and civil rights leader. That bill, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, would set a new formula that applies to all 50 states and “hinges on a finding of repeated voting rights violations in the preceding 25 years,” according to a fact sheet. If enacted, it would once again give the Justice Department veto power over any of Georgia’s proposed voting changes. The legislation has yet to be considered in the House, where Democratic leaders are trying to build a legislative record of hearings in order to bolster the bill’s chances of holding up in court. Senior Democrats reaffirmed their support for the bill during a Tuesday press conference steps from the U.S. Capitol. “This is about patriotism for America,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters. “It’s about the right to vote, a sacred privilege contained in our Constitution.” Several lawmakers cited Georgia’s 2018 governor’s race as a reason why the bill was needed. “We must have the capacity and the ability to redeem the soul of this nation and set it on the right course,” Lewis said. U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, pledged the House will pass “a new Voting Rights Act renewal with a new pre-clearance requirement” by the end of the year. GOP resistance Any voting rights bill, however, faces an uphill climb in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been sharply critical of a broader elections overhaul that Democrats have pushed in recent months. The Kentucky Republican has dubbed that legislation — which would institute automatic voter registration for federal elections, expand early voting and bar voter purges, among other changes — a “naked attempt to change the rules of American politics to benefit one party.” “The whole package seems tailor-made by Washington Democrats to help their D.C. attorneys descend on local communities, exploit confusion and try to swing elections,” McConnell wrote in a Jan. 17 op-ed. During Tuesday’s hearing, Abrams received friendly questions from Democrats and was largely ignored by the subcommittee’s GOP members. The exception was U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee who once served with Abrams in the Georgia statehouse. Collins sought to defend the voting rights record of Georgia’s GOP leaders and sparred with Abrams over her previous comments about immigrants in the U.S. illegally, as well as the details of the state’s “exact match” policy and past voter purges. “Voter turnout is expanding mightily” in the state, Collins said. “Between 2014 and 2018, turnout among Hispanic and African American voters has soared, increasing by double digits in a state that more and more Americans are choosing to call home.” Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at www.ajc.com/politics.
  • Brookhaven has outfitted its new Tesla with all the gear and gadgets it would need to operate as a fully functional police cruiser. Now, it’s time to put it to the test. The previously owned 2015 Tesla Model S, which the police department bought for $45,000, is set to hit the track for the first time Tuesday morning at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth, Brookhaven spokesman Burke Brennan said. Now that the car has been outfitted for police use, the facility will test whether the luxury five-door is viable as a patrol car. That means putting it through the rigors any other police car would go through: a precision cone course, figure-eight exercises, breaking and steering, said John Hutcheson, a spokesman for the GPSTC. » READ MORE: Brookhaven police use confiscated funds to buy Tesla for $45K “It’s something that we've never done with an all-electric vehicle,” he said, adding that the GPSTC is “eager” to watch the Tesla accelerate down the high-speed track and see how the it performs.  The Teslas are renowned for speed, with most models capable of going from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds. Hutcheson said the testing should only take one day. He clarified that the GPSTC is not a regulatory agency and only facilitates training and testing for law enforcement. The department would use it to respond to routine calls and do day-to-day patrols. If the Tesla doesn’t get the all-clear, the department could still use it for educational purposes. “Having it be a first-responder vehicle is a question mark,” Brennan said. When Brookhaven bought the Tesla using confiscated funds, it had about 22,000 miles on it. The police department has spent the last several months outfitting it with everything it would need to fit in with the rest of the cruisers. Some of that was difficult because Teslas are fully electric and designed differently than standard police car models, like a Ford Crown Victoria or Chevrolet Suburban, Brennan said. If its transformation is successful, the Tesla could set the groundwork for Brookhaven — or any other agency in the state — to implement an all-electric fleet of police cruisers. “We are always looking for ways to reduce our impact on the environment, improve our air quality and conserve resources for future generations,” Mayor John Ernst said in a statement in March, when the Tesla purchase was announced. News of the buy was met with online skepticism by some metro Atlanta residents who questioned why a police department spent tens of thousands of dollars on a luxury car. Brennan said the city has not heard of any other police department on the East Coast that is testing an electric vehicle for use as a patrol vehicle. Police departments in Los Angeles, Denver and Fremont, California have added Teslas to their fleets, according to Electrek. Tesla’s main factory is located in Fremont. Follow DeKalb County News on Facebook and Twitter  In other news:
  • Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Monday unveiled a citywide affordable housing plan, putting into action one of her central campaign pledges – to invest $1 billion in public and private funds to combat rising housing costs and the displacement of longtime residents. The 43-page document – called the One Atlanta Housing Affordability Action Plan – offers a menu of policy proposals. They range from finding ways to use existing public dollars and land as an incentive to attract private sector investment to changes in zoning, expediting redevelopment of vacant and blighted properties, developer incentives, and the creation of a housing innovation lab. Supporters called it the most comprehensive housing plan of its type in the city’s history. But in order to make the proposals a reality, the effort will test Bottoms’ ability marshal the resources of the city, state and federal agencies, as well as local businesses, developers and nonprofits. She will also have to convince the City Council to pass legislation such as zoning changes that might risk running afoul of neighborhood groups. In the hours after the unveiling, critics of the plan said it was short on details housing advocates said they’d expect for a document presented 18 months into the mayor’s first term. One prominent housing expert said he fears the city’s plans will take too long to deploy and potentially miss the current economic expansion only to face the headwinds of a potential recession. At a press conference before a ceremonial groundbreaking for Creekside at Adamsville Place, a 147-unit affordable rental development in southwest Atlanta, Bottoms said the document would serve as the framework for how the city deploys $1 billion in public and private funds and create or preserve 20,000 affordable units by 2026. “Rents are going up in around our city, but the increase in wages is not keeping pace,” Bottoms said. “There’s a growing gap in what people can afford and what people make.” The city has enjoyed a booming economy and a development surge primarily focused on luxury housing. That’s put a squeeze on renters and homeowners who have seen their property taxes soar. Meanwhile, city agencies failed to fill the gap in new affordable housing development. The 13 initiatives and 45 other items will require dozens of pieces of legislation, which Bottoms told reporters would be drafted as necessary. The city and related government bodies control some 1,300 acres, some of which could be used for new development. Bottoms said she would push the Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) to redevelop 300 acres of former housing projects into mixed-communities, something she said would create 2,000 new affordable units. AHA has largely remained on the sidelines during the economic boom, mired in leadership turmoil and lawsuits. The agency also lacks a permanent CEO, a role Bottoms told reporters is a priority to fill. Other changes could come to zoning and building codes for more flexibility for unique multi-family housing and construction processes. Bottoms also said her administration would explore expansion of inclusionary zoning, which requires developers set-aside a percentage of new rental units as affordable. “The reality is that no city has gotten this right, and in true Atlanta fashion, I truly believe we will be the first to get it right in terms of the affordable housing challenge across this country,” Bottoms said. ‘Not a moonshot’ Sarah Kirsch, executive director of Urban Land Institute of Atlanta, applauded the plan. She said the plan builds on recommendations of HouseATL, a leadership group that presented more than two dozen proposals to the city last year. “This is not a moonshot, this 20,000 units,” Kirsch said. But echoing astronaut Neil Armstrong, she called it “a giant leap” for affordability in the city. Though Atlanta likes to tout its quality of life and affordability to industry, rising rents have squeezed residents as wages for many have stagnated. Dan Immergluck, an affordable housing expert and a professor at the Urban Studies Institute at Georgia State University, said he was unimpressed by the plan. “There’s too few details, no firm dollar commitments on different proposals,” he said. Immergluck said Bottoms is right to want to use local, state and federal dollars to attract private sector resources. But unless the mayor finds significant sources of local funds, Immergluck said she won’t be able to leverage the public dollars very far. He also said AHA’s land should be used to create far more than 2,000 new units. New construction is needed, Immergluck said, but city could add units faster by creating its own housing voucher program. As a candidate for mayor, Bottoms also left many housing advocates with the strong impression she would seek mostly new local revenues to build the $500 million in public dollars for her $1 billion housing pledge. On Monday, Bottoms said she always stated that she intended to use existing dollars to attract private investment while pledging to find new government funding. The document discusses potential future housing bond programs and exploring potential fees that other cities have enacted to help finance new affordable housing. Alison Johnson a member of advocacy group Housing Justice League, said she wanted to hear more from the mayor about how she plans to keep longtime renters from being displaced. Johnson said that the mayor’s anti-displacement efforts mainly focus on protecting homeowners from rising property taxes. In some neighborhoods, particularly south and west of downtown, more than 80 percent of residents rent, Johnson said. “How are those people going to be protected?” she asked.
  • Two New York-based agencies reaffirmed Cobb’s Aaa credit rating this month and upgraded the county’s financial outlook from “negative” to “stable” thanks partly to a tax hike passed last summer. Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings both said the county appears to be in good financial shape, despite a low funded pension ratio of 51.6 percent.  “The revision of the outlook to stable from negative reflects the county’s sizable surplus in fiscal 2018, largely due to a tax rate increase,” Moody’s said in a statement. “The outlook also reflects the county’s strong tax base growth, driven in part by the county’s proximity to Atlanta’s large, diverse and growing economy, leading to healthy increases in property tax revenue.” Chairman Mike Boyce, who spearheaded the tax hike, touted the latest reports as vindication and said the increase put the county on solid footing going forward. In a follow-up conversation, Boyce acknowledged the challenge posed by the pension fund. But, he said, the county had taken responsibility by committing to a 30-year plan and adopting more realistic assumptions about investment returns and the life expectancy of pensioners. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We’re not happy where it’s at,” said Boyce. “The key thing is that the rating agencies understand why we are where we are and it’s not because we’re doing any shenanigans with the numbers.” Cobb is preparing to vote on its next budget and millage rate at the end of July. Commissioners have proposed keeping the millage rate the same. The first public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, July 9 at 9 a.m. at the county government building on Marietta Square. 
  • A lawsuit filed by College Park against Clayton County involving airport alcohol sales tax revenue can proceed toward trial, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday. The case now returns to the trial court in Fulton County. In its lawsuit, filed in 2015, College Park has contended it was not receiving as much tax revenue from alcohol sales at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport as a 1983 law entitled it to collect. The airport is owned by the city of Atlanta but some of its concessions sit in both College Park and unincorporated Clayton County. College Park has claimed the county owes it about $2.5 million from alcohol taxes collected over the past 35 years. In Monday’s unanimous ruling, the state high court said the legal doctrine of sovereign immunity does not bar the city’s claims against the county, as Clayton County lawyers had contended. Under Georgia law, sovereign immunity prohibits lawsuits against the state without the state’s consent. This case involves a dispute between two political subdivisions of equal standing, Chief Justice Harold Melton wrote for the court. “Neither entity retains a superior authority over the other that would prevent it from being (haled) into a court of law by the other.”
  • Over the weekend, President Donald Trump postponed a massive sweep of raids that would have targeted undocumented immigrants in Atlanta - and set up a dicey showdown with local Democratic leaders. The operation was to take aim at 2,000 families who had received deportation orders because members were in the country illegally. And the raids were set to begin Sunday in Atlanta and other major cities, a prospect that sowed fear and confusion across the region.  But the president delayed the sweep over the weekend to give lawmakers two more weeks to hash out a solution. “If not,” he tweeted on Saturday afternoon, “Deportations start!” A few hours before Trump’s tweet, state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero blasted out an email to supporters with information about how to prepare for the raids, including Spanish and English instructions about what to do if agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement show up at your door. 'Right now the best option this to be informed,' she wrote in the email, which included links to websites from groups like the ACLU and Latino Community Fund Georgia. 'Prepare yourself to protect yourself and family. Share this information with your networks.' Lopez Romero is an immigration attorney who moved to the U.S. from Mexico at age 5. She’s also one of a half-dozen Democrats vying for their party’s nomination in the Gwinnett and Forsyth-based 7th Congressional District. (She announced her bid for Congress this spring but is formally kicking off her campaign Friday evening with an event at the Gwinnett Historic Courthouse.) The raids may have ultimately been postponed, but Lopez Romero’s email – and similar tweet from fellow Democratic candidate Nabilah Islam over the weekend– show some Democrats are ready to take the issue by the horns. That’s not something to be ignored in the rapidly-changing 7th, where Latinos make up about 20 percent of the population. *** Atlanta Mayor Keisha Bottoms has emerged as one of the more vocal critics to the immigration raids, saying in a statement the “cruel policy” wouldn’t help fix a broken immigration system. “This is a siege on immigrant families and local municipalities by the federal government. The White House should be ashamed for the depths they are willing to sink to—including the separation of families and imprisonment of children—for what appears to be a re-election stunt,' Bottoms said in a statement to news outlets. *** Trump is giving Congress two weeks to cut a bipartisan deal overhauling the country’s asylum laws. As our Cox colleague Jamie Dupree notes, such an agreement has eluded Congress for years, but there could be movement this week on a $4.5 billion emergency spending package to help handle the humanitarian crisis on the southern border. Lawmakers are slated to vote on dueling proposals this week as they race toward their July 4th recess.  *** The GOP is unveiling a long-awaited online fundraising platform today that party leaders hope will rival Democrats’ small-dollar machine, ActBlue. Politico reports that WinRed is “intended to reshape the GOP’s fundraising apparatus by creating a centralized, one-stop shop for online Republican giving, which the party has lacked to this point.” Republican candidates have pushed the party to come up with an answer to ActBlue, which helped Democrats pull in more than $1.6 billion ahead of the 2018 elections. The bigger question is whether the GOP can build a small-dollar donor culture to rival Democrats’.  *** State Sen. Greg Kirk posted two pieces of news on his Facebook page over the weekend. The Americus Republican announced he’s been diagnosed with bile duct cancer – and that he still plans to run for re-election in 2020. “I've got a long fight and road ahead of me. I need your prayers and Rosalyn needs your prayers,” the former pastor posted. Georgia House Speaker David Ralston quickly circulated a statement wishing Kirk well. 'While Senator Kirk’s news is devastating, we remain confident in the power of the Lord and the skill of his doctors to deal with this disease,' said the Blue Ridge Republican. 'As Greg said, he is a fighter — a tenacious one at that — and I know I speak for the whole House in wishing him well in the fight ahead.' *** If you haven’t already read our colleague Yamil Berard’s Sunday investigation into Georgia’s emergency medical services system, it is very much worth your time.  *** On Friday, we told you of some new U.S. census data compiled by AJC number-cruncher Jennifer Peebles, who said that a decline in white population and a rise in minority numbers could result in Georgia becoming a majority-minority state by 2028. A number of our readers assumed that this demographic shift was the result of illegal immigration across the southern U.S. border. And while it may be a factor, reality has more to do with declining birth rates among white Southerners, a return of African-Americans to the South, and decades of legal immigration into the U.S. As a percentage of the population, white Georgians have declined by 3.2 percentage points. The largest part of minority gain, 1.9 percent, has been among black, non-Latino Americans. Another .9 percent has been among Asians. Latinos of all races, whether undocumented or not, account for another .9 percent. *** They aren’t exactly political pals, but President Donald Trump has shown an affinity toward Jimmy Carter.  They’ve chatted on the phone several times over the years, and Trump has delighted in Carter’s critique of his nemesis Hillary Clinton. (Carter revealed after the election that he supported Bernie Sanders in the primary.) On Meet the Press on Sunday, host Chuck Todd pressed Trump about how Carter has become his go-to ex-president. Here’s the transcript:  PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I speak to Jimmy Carter. CHUCK TODD: You do? What about President Obama? PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have not spoken to him -- CHUCK TODD: But George W. Bush, you do? PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: -- pretty much from the beginning. CHUCK TODD: And Jimmy Carter? PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have spoken to Bush, I have spoken to Jimmy Carter, yes. CHUCK TODD: Do you get -- PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I like Jimmy Carter. You know, Jimmy Carter's oftentimes come to my defense. I don't necessarily agree with the way he ran things and that's okay. And he understands that and so do I. But he came to my defense on numerous occasions. And he thinks that I was treated the worst of anybody he's ever seen by the press. *** Another Republican is jumping into the 7th District congressional race. Duluth-based teacher Lisa Noel Babbage announced her plans to seek the open seat over the weekend, joining an already crowded field that includes more than a half-dozen other Republicans.  Babbage said she’s active in Women for Trump chapters in Georgia and Virginia and is vowing to donate a “significant portion of her legislative salary back to small businesses and community programs” in the 7th District.
  • The head of the Georgia Ports Authority is warning that the Trump administration’s latest round of proposed Chinese tariffs could take a nearly $18 million bite out of the state’s booming ports.  The White House is currently mulling whether to add ship-to-shore cranes to its fourth batch of Chinese tariffs. The state’s Ports Authority has already ordered six such cranes, costing some $70 million. Executive Director Griff Lynch said instituting a 25 percent tariff could have a “substantially negative impact” on work to expand the Savannah harbor, the state’s top economic development project. “It would also hinder our plans for additional future purchases of these large, purpose-built cranes required for our expanding operations,” he wrote in a recent letter to U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer. “There is no domestic source for these cranes and, indeed, there is no manufacturing facility for these cranes except in China.”  Lynch’s letter, which also included a plea for Lighthizer to exempt port yard equipment from any future tariff discussions, was quickly followed up by Georgia U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson.  The Republicans said Friday that removing the prospect of tariffs on ship-to-shore cranes “would allow our ports to continue with important infrastructure upgrades and will prevent major disruptions to trade in the southeastern United States.” “We hope you and your staff will consider the importance of fairness and predictability, so that American businesses can continue to create jobs and increase economic prosperity,” they told Lighthizer. The push from Lynch and Georgia’s senators comes three months after the Trump administration proposed setting aside a record $130.3 million for dredging work at the Savannah harbor.  The nearly $1 billion project to deepen the Savannah harbor bed from 42 feet to 47 feet is now more than halfway complete. Proponents say it will deliver $282 million in annual transportation savings to the country once it’s finished in 2022. Georgia isn’t the only port state that’s asking for relief from proposed tariffs. South Carolina recently raised similar warnings about levying duties on cranes – the state’s ports authority said a 25 percent tariff could cost them some $36 million, according to The Charleston Post and Courier. Read more:  Latest White House budget a boon for the Savannah port  The D.C. bargain that raised the tide for the Port of Savannah
  • The state Department of Community Health will reinstate the Medicaid benefits of 17,000 poor elderly or disabled people it cut off in a mass disenrollment this month. State officials still believe they properly notified most of those people it was time to renew, and that those beneficiaries simply did not respond. But out of “an abundance of caution” they will restart the process, said Blake Fulenwider, the agency’s chief health policy officer. “We take every single one of these cases extremely seriously,” Fulenwider said in an interview with the AJC. That means that the 17,000 people who were cut off — and another 13,000 that were in line for cutoff for the same reasons — will be sent new renewal notices. Recipients must respond to those renewal notices. If they don’t, they will be cut off again. Attorneys for some of the people who lost benefits said their clients never received the notices. They were glad to hear Friday’s news. “We are grateful that the state has seen this as such a priority that they have worked diligently to assure health care for the most vulnerable Georgians including the seniors and disabled,” said Vicky Kimbrell, a staff attorney with Georgia Legal Services, a nonprofit that represents clients across the state. “We will carefully monitor the benefits on behalf of our clients to assure that they receive these benefits.” State officials are urging all Medicaid beneficiaries to check their accounts to make sure their correct address is listed for notices, especially those in the group of aged, blind or disabled people on Medicare. “If we don’t get a response to the notice or if the notice is sent to an incorrect address, we have very little we can do on our end to track people down,” Fulenwider said. “It is absolutely critical that we have an accurate address of record in the system so we can assure that notices are properly delivered to where they need to go.” Updating a mailing address or email address is up to the person covered, Fulenwider stressed. He suggested recipients do that through their Georgia Gateway computer account, or by going into a state office, or calling the Medicaid 1-877-423-4746 customer service line. The offices that handle that are the Department of Family and Children Services, or DFCS, under contract to DCH. Kimbrell said that that her clients often have difficulty fixing problems through those methods, starting with the phone line. She hopes that the news of those difficulties will encourage the state to prioritize fixes to its customer service system for benefits. “We are back to the issue of the ability of people to get through, through Gateway or the phones or their caseworker, to actually get the renewals done,” Kimbrell said. “We hope part of the process is the recognition that the state has to make sure that those pathways are accessible for everyone.” The group of people affected in this disenrollment were generally on Medicare, but were so poor that they also received Medicaid to fill in the gaps that Medicare doesn’t cover, such as Medicare monthly premiums of more than $100, medications, and co-pays. The loss of Medicaid can cause a domino effect for them, lawyers said, causing them to miss other payments, and lose medical coverage and medical care, for starters. State officials made the decision after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported the mass disenrollment, bringing attention from across the country and questions from federal regulators at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The reinstatement won’t happen immediately. Doing the computer coding to make the patients’ accounts active again will take some time, said Fulenwider and Ed Potts, director of the Georgia Gateway System at the Department of Human Services.  “Top priority for us to get this done,” said Potts. “And we want to get it done right.” The Gateway computer system started the problem, when it accidentally created a backlog of 30,000 cases for cancellation last year. Every month, thousands of people come on and off Medicaid. The 30,000 people should have been part of that regular flow, Potts said, after they didn’t respond to renewal notices. The computer should have generated an alert for a caseworker to review each case and end the account. Instead, a glitch that started in October put such accounts in limbo. When the vendor for Gateway, Deloitte Consulting, fixed the mistake in January, the backlog was too big for caseworkers to review. DCH decided to terminate them. Deloitte, DHS and DCH say they are “extremely confident” that notices were sent to all but 68 of those 30,000 people before they were scheduled for the mass disenrollment. When Medicaid accounts are reinstated, all benefits will be restored back to June 1, they said. “We feel that we are absolutely correct in the actions that were taken,” Fulenwider said. “But we do recognize that it could have caught some folks by surprise. And we want to take the steps that we can to help them revalidate and take care of benefits.” READ THE ORIGINAL AJC STORY: EXCLUSIVE-Georgia is cutting off Medicaid for 17,000 patients
  • The state’s judicial watchdog on Wednesday filed ethics charges against Atlanta Municipal Court Judge Terrinee Gundy, accusing her of chronic tardiness and absenteeism — and then covering it up. The charges against Gundy were brought by the Judicial Qualifications Commission’s investigative panel in a filing before the Georgia Supreme Court. They are the culmination of a lengthy JQC investigation of Gundy, who has been a city judge since 2013. Efforts to reach Gundy, 45, were unsuccessful. Her lawyer, Frank Strickland, declined to comment on the allegations. The nine charges filed by the JQC allege varying degrees of misconduct by Gundy. These include failing to provide required hearings to at least six defendants, resulting in them being unlawfully incarcerated, as well as making false statements to the commission, which is a possible felony under state law. From September 2015 through February 2018, Gundy also failed to show up to work on time, the charges allege. For this reason, she violated the judicial canons of ethics by failing to fairly and efficiently dispose of cases before her because she repeatedly arrived at the courthouse after she was supposed to be presiding over cases in her own courtroom, the filing said. Gundy also disabled or removed an audio-visual recording system at the courthouse to conceal her tardiness, the charges allege. And she told the court’s operations manager to stop producing “case count” calendars to further conceal her improper absenteeism, the charges allege. Once the JQC opened its investigation, Gundy made false statements to the commission, both in written responses and when she appeared before the commission’s board, the filing said. Former JQC chairman Lester Tate, who has also represented judges under investigation by the commission, said the ethics charges are a serious matter. “Anytime you have a judge against which charges have been filed by the JQC, it’s a big deal,” Tate said. As for the judicial canons of ethics, he said: “It’s more like the Ten Commandments rather than a specific legal statute.” Gundy’s case now proceeds to a three-person hearing panel of the JQC chaired by Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Robert McBurney. If the panel finds Gundy violated judicial ethics rules, it can recommend punishment ranging from a reprimand to removal from the bench. The state Supreme Court will have the final say on the matter. Richard Hyde, the JQC’s vice chairman said the “charges filed allege various acts of misconduct by Judge Gundy and speak for themselves.” The JQC filing was signed by Ben Easterlin, the commission’s director, and attorney Fani Willis, the former Fulton County prosecutor who headed the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating case. City taxpayers funded $56,000 of Gundy’s legal defense, before Atlanta City Attorney Nina Hickson wrote a letter to Strickland saying it was improper under state law to use public money to pay for a private legal matter. Jeremy Berry, who was hired as city attorney by Reed, is the person who approved the use of public money for Gundy’s legal bills in a March 2018 letter to Strickland that did not mention Gundy by name. The letter said Strickland would be paid $600 an hour “in the matter of a Judge.” Hickson became city attorney after Berry resigned. Not included in the charges against Gundy is nearly $10,000 of public money spent on glass sculptures; a party hosted by former Mayor Kasim Reed, with whom she had a personal relationship; and luxurious stationery, including gold-sealed letterhead. One of the $600 glass sculptures was engraved to read: “Mayor Kasim Reed, Flame of Excellence.” Reed appointed Gundy to the bench. About $2,500 of the spending went for tickets handed out to people invited to the after-party for Reed’s Masked Ball, an elegant social event hosted by the mayor to raise money for the United Negro College Fund. “We need them on the fancier side, as it’s for a city event,” says an Oct. 30, 2017, email from Gundy’s assistant to the account manager for the printing company. The Municipal Court is a $20 million operation, funded through the city budget. The spending documents reviewed by Channel 2 Action News and the AJC show that neither Gundy nor any member of her staff sought approval for any of the purchases, nor do they indicate that anyone in the city’s finance department signed off on them. Among the new charges against Gundy, who draws an annual salary of $182,000, is that she threatened to fire a court security officer if he failed to secure seats for her and her family at the 2018 mayoral inauguration. She also allegedly used “profane language … in a hostile and abusive manner” to fellow Municipal Court Judge Christopher Ward, the filing said.

News

  • A man said his pain medication and a broken back door are what led to his 2-year-old son wandering onto a busy Florida highway. Jacob Krueger, 25, and the child's mother, 28-year-old Yajaira Tirado were both arrested on neglect charges after their son was found on the highway around 10:30 a.m. Monday with a dirty diaper and bug bites covering his arms.  'I'm sorry,' Krueger said after walking out of jail Tuesday. 'I didn't mean for it to come down to this.' Krueger explained that he and Tirado are on medications for conditions that he said kept them asleep during the ordeal. He also blamed a broken door at the home they rent as why his son was able to escape. >>Read: Toddler wearing dirty diaper, covered in bug bites found crossing highway, police say; 2 arrested When asked why there wasn't any attempt to fix the door to prevent an incident like this, Krueger said, 'There's no way. Doesn't matter if I tried doing something to it.' Krueger went on to deny a responding deputy's claim that his home was littered with broken bottles and smelled like feces. >> Read more trending news  'I love my child. I want the best for them (and) don't ever want to hurt them,' Krueger explained.  Officials said they had been to the home in 2018 for another case of child neglect in which Tirado was arrested after a 1-year-old and 2-year-old were left at the home alone, according to the Volusia County Sheriff's Office.  Deputies said the toddler found crossing the highway was placed in the custody of the Department of Children and Families. Tirado remains in the Volusia County Jail.
  • The Democratic presidential primary debates begin Wednesday with 10 candidates going head-to-head in Miami as the 2020 presidential election season gets underway. >>Read more trending news Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and seven others will likely face questions on border security, health care and climate change on the first night of the two-night event. >>Jamie Dupree: Warren leads Democrats into first night of 2020 debates Here’s what to know about and how to watch Wednesday’s Democratic debate.  When and where is the debate being held? The debate will be broken up into two nights with 10 candidates on the stage to debate each night. The debates will take place on Wednesday and Thursday at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami. Who will be on the stage on Wednesday? Here is the lineup for Wednesday’s debate: Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey  Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts  Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas  Former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii  Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota  Former Housing Secretary Julián Castro  New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington  Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio  Where will they stand onstage? The candidates will stand from left to right in this order – de Blasio, Ryan, Castro, Booker, Warren, O’Rourke, Klobuchar, Gabbard, Inslee, Delaney.  Who will be asking the questions at the debate? Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, Chuck Todd, Rachel Maddow and José Diaz-Balart will moderate the debate. Holt, Guthrie and Diaz-Balart will moderate the first hour, with Holt, Todd and Maddow asking questions in the second hour. How can I watch the debate? NBC is sponsoring the debate, but it will be shown on all three major networks and on cable news channels. It will stream online free (without requiring an account with a television provider) at NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, the NBC News Mobile App and OTT apps, and Telemundo's digital platforms. What time wil it be on? The debate will air from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Wednesday. Where can I watch the livestream? Here is the livestream link of the debate from YouTube Live coverage: Come back here beginning at 7 p.m. for live coverage of the first night of the debate. 
  • Police arrested a woman who allegedly tried to kidnap a couple’s children in the atrium of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Saturday morning. Police said Esther Daniels, 26, tried to grab a stroller with a child in it before being fended off by the child’s mother. She then picked up one of the couple’s other children and walked away, but the father took the child back from her, Atlanta police spokesman Sgt. John Chafee said in an emailed statement. >> Read more trending news  An officer responded a few minutes later and found Daniels in a frenzied mental state, Chafee said. She then allegedly ran toward a nearby family and had to be restrained by the officer, Chafee said.  Daniels, who lives in Kansas, eventually calmed down and was escorted to the police precinct in a wheelchair, the statement said. She was checked out at Grady Memorial Hospital before being taken to the Clayton County Jail. Daniels was charged with kidnapping and obstructing an officer. Her bond has not been set.
  • A Virginia man and woman are facing homicide charges after their 2-month-old daughter died from cocaine and heroin intoxication last year, authorities said. According to WDBJ-TV, police on Tuesday arrested Eugene Chandler Jr., 27, and Shaleigh Brumfield, 26, of Danville, on felony homicide charges in the baby's November 2018 death. Officials also charged the pair with child abuse and neglect, the news station reported. >> Read more trending news On Nov. 24, Danville police and emergency crews responded to a report of an infant who couldn't breathe, according to court documents. The child, identified as Marleigh Rain Chandler, was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital, the Danville Register & Bee reported. While searching the family's home, investigators discovered evidence of drug use, including marijuana and drug paraphernalia, WSET reported. The Western District Office of the Chief Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy, which revealed that Marleigh died from 'acute heroin and cocaine intoxication in a setting of co-sleeping,' officials said. Chandler and Brumfield were booked into the Danville City Jail, where they are being held without bond.
  • When the first Democratic presidential primary debate kicks off Wednesday night, Kirkland Dent will be watching. Dent, 28, a medical librarian at Mercer University in Macon, has been trying to keep up with the sprawling Democratic field aiming to unseat President Donald Trump — “I can probably name 80% of them,” he said. But he is looking forward to seeing them in action. “I’m curious about what their goals are, what issues they want to tackle.” So are Judy Hauser, Michael Murphy-McCarthy and John Chastain. They are among about a dozen Democratic and independent voters in Georgia who have agreed to take part in an informal focus group organized by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to discuss the 2020 Democratic primary race. The AJC checked in with them for the first time ahead of the debates Wednesday and Thursday in Miami, the first opportunity many voters will get to see the candidates answer questions for a national audience. THE LATEST | Georgia Presidential candidate visit tracker MORE | Democratic presidential hopefuls emphasize Georgia’s big role in 2020 For the most part, the Georgia voters said they have been paying some attention to the race but want to know more. That’s true of Democratic voters nationally, too. According to a poll released this week by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs, only 35% of Democrats who are registered to vote say they’re paying close attention to the campaign. The size of the field doesn’t help, and most of the Georgia voters who talked to the AJC said they are eager for it to thin out a bit. The debates, which will feature 10 candidates on stage each night, won’t give the contenders a lot of time to make their case. “It’s going to be really, really hard to stand out in that big a crowd,” said Murphy-McCarthy, who lives in Peachtree Corners and works in IT. “It will be easier to fall down than to stand out.” Dent said a number of candidates have stood out for him so far: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang. But he’s open to being surprised by lesser-known candidates. “It’s important for our generation to start paying attention a lot more,” he said. RELATED | Biden reverses stance on Hyde abortion amendment at Atlanta event MORE | Georgia’s ‘heartbeat’ law targeted by Democratic presidential hopefuls Chastain, 73, lives in largely Republican Cherokee County. “If I say I am a Democrat, it’s like I have the plague,” he joked. He said he’s very interested in the Democratic primary race and wants to hear candidates get specific at the debates. “I’m looking for some action plans,” he said, “I want to know what they are going to do, not just getting Trump out.” He’s retired and said health care is a top issue. Hauser, a registered nurse from Buckhead, wants a candidate who can win. “We need someone who is going to be able to take on Trump and his mouth,” she said. She said she likes Biden but is also interested in Buttigieg and Harris. Biden, she said, “has very good core values. Yes, he’s made some mistakes, but who hasn’t?” His age doesn’t bother her. “I see him as a one-term president that will bring this country back on even keel,” she said. Murphy-McCarthy, 51, said he’s been impressed by Warren but says he’s open to the others. “I’m OK with somebody coming out of nowhere,” he said. DEEPER COVERAGE | Which Democratic candidates have raised the most in Georgia PHOTOS | Top Democratic presidential contenders campaign in Atlanta Howard Giambrone of Coweta County is an independent who has mostly voted for Republicans in the past, but he is considering a Democrat in 2020. It won’t be Bernie Sanders or Warren, who he says are too liberal. He said he is looking for a candidate who is fiscally responsible, supportive of the military and has what he considers a moderate view on immigration. Giambrone’s wife is from Colombia and he doesn’t like Trump’s immigration policies. “I want to strengthen the border but make coming here (legally) less difficult,” he said. So far he thinks Biden and Cory Booker are possibilities. What can the candidates say to win him over? “I want to hear fresh ideas and get away from trashing Trump,” he said. William Black, 38, is a housekeeper in Jones County. He said his top issues are race relations and global warming, and his favorite candidates so far are Sanders and Biden. He isn’t too worried about the size of the field. “They will weed themselves out,” he said. He’s happy to see the enthusiasm. “It’s good for the Democratic Party that there’s that level of interest of people who want to change the country.” How to follow Democratic presidential debates NBC will host the first Democratic presidential debates Wednesday and Thursday, starting at 9 and concluding at 11 each night. Each night will feature 10 candidates. The debates will be broadcast by NBC News and also appear on MSNBC and Telemundo. Telemundo will broadcast the debate in Spanish. They also will stream online free on NBC News’ digital platforms, including NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, the NBC News Mobile App and OTT apps on Roku, Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV, in addition to Telemundo’s digital platforms. NBC News will also stream the debates live and in full on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
  • A 58-year-old man is behind bars after police said he raped a child nightly over a three-year period. According to the Jackson Sun, William Paul Godwin of Parsons, Tennessee, was arrested Sunday and charged with 12 counts of child rape, as well as one count of continuous child rape, authorities said. >> Read more news stories Godwin is accused of forcing the girl into sexual intercourse nightly beginning in fall 2012, when she was 5, the Sun reported. The victim said the rapes continued until summer 2015, according to court documents. Godwin was jailed on $100,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in court July 8, WBBJ reported. Read more here or here.