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    Local groups are planning to take to the streets to protest President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration aimed at securing funds for a wall along the border with Mexico.  On Monday — Presidents Day — protesters will stage a demonstration outside the Atlanta field office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Ted Turner Drive.  The protest is part of a national movement organized by MoveOn to push back against Trump’s emergency declaration. Trump made the announcement Friday after signing a spending bill passed by Congress, which did not include as much money as the president wanted for the border wall. The president acknowledged that he will almost certainly face a legal challenge to the declaration, while experts pointed out that Trump’s move is unprecedented.  MoveOn called the move “an illegal power grab from an unhinged man to push his racist, dangerous policies.” Primarily organized by the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, the Atlanta protest is set to take place at the ICE offices because ICE “would be charged with patrolling this ridiculous wall,” GAFSJ Executive Director Janel Green told AJC.com. Green said she expects at least 200 people to attend. A coalition of nearly a dozen other community organizations is joining the noon rally. 
  • Local groups are planning to take to the streets to protest President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration aimed at securing funds for a wall along the border with Mexico.  On Monday — Presidents Day — protesters will stage a demonstration outside the Atlanta field office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Ted Turner Drive.  The protest is part of a national movement organized by MoveOn to push back against Trump’s emergency declaration. Trump made the announcement Friday after signing a spending bill passed by Congress, which did not include as much money as the president wanted for the border wall. The president acknowledged that he will almost certainly face a legal challenge to the declaration, while experts pointed out that Trump’s move is unprecedented.  MoveOn called the move “an illegal power grab from an unhinged man to push his racist, dangerous policies.” Primarily organized by the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, the Atlanta protest is set to take place at the ICE offices because ICE “would be charged with patrolling this ridiculous wall,” GAFSJ Executive Director Janel Green told AJC.com. Green said she expects at least 200 people to attend. A coalition of nearly a dozen other community organizations is joining the noon rally.  
  • Georgia has yet to set a date for its 2020 presidential primary, but that didn’t deter U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren from making Gwinnett County one of her first campaign stops in her bid for the White House. Gwinnett has transformed from a Republican stronghold to a Democratic-leaning county in past elections, going for Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams by 14 percentage points in the 2018 governor’s race and for Hillary Clinton by six in the 2016 presidential race. READ | Abrams puts support behind Gwinnett MARTA expansion The Massachusetts Democrat recognizes the county’s potential for her party, she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution before taking the stage. “Gwinnett is the future, not just of Georgia, but of America,” Warren said. “This is a place where Democrats need to get out and make the case for what we are fighting for, and to enlist people from all around this county and around this state to make this a country that works, not just for a thin slice at the top, a country that works for everybody.” Warren was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd of about 1,100, filling the Central Gwinnett High School gymnasium. She used her time in Lawrenceville to introduce herself to the crowd, telling formative stories from her life that have shaped her political principles. The audience responded enthusiastically to Warren’s comments on implementing anti-corruption measures, raising the minimum wage and implementing a “Medicare for All” universal health care system. One protester was removed from the crowd, and others sported pro-Donald Trump and anti-abortion hats and signs outside the event. Ray Noblit, 66, made the four-hour trip to Lawrenceville from Cookeville, Tennessee, with his wife and daughter to see Warren. The family of three is undecided, but interested in Warren’s policies. Ann Austin, Noblit’s wife, is a fan of Warren’s work with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Noblit agreed, saying Warren’s focus is squarely on average citizens. “She represesnts the common people, not Wall Street,” Noblit said. Carrie Weston, of Marietta, waited outside Central Gwinnett High School for half an hour before doors opened Saturday. The 55-year-old has been waiting for Warren to run “for years.” “She can take on Trump,” Weston said, wearing a Warren 2020 sweatshirt. “She’s not scared. She doesn’t back down. There is no ‘no’ in her. She stands her ground.” Bailey Beebout, 17, of Grayson, brought his mom to see Warren at Central Gwinnett. Beebout has been interested in politics since he was 6 years old, when he was in the voting booth as his mother cast a vote in the 2008 presidential election. He’s excited he’ll finally be able to get into the voting booth on his own and wants to see every candidate who visits Georgia. Gwinnett County and other suburban metro Atlanta counties have increasingly voted Democratic in recent elections, leading many to speculate whether Georgia could become a swing state in the general election. Because of the 2018 governor’s race, decided by 1.2 percentage points, Weston thinks Georgia can’t be ignored. “Georgia is turning purple and I believe a lot of candidates realize that,” Weston said. “After Stacey Abrams, there’s no pushing us to the end of your tour.” Staff writer Michael Kanell contributed to this article. Like AJC on Facebook | Follow us on Twitter
  • U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is soon headed to Gwinnett County to meet with activists, becoming the first presidential candidate to make a public visit to Georgia after formally entering the 2020 race. The Massachusetts Democrat will appear at Central Gwinnett High School in Lawrenceville on Saturday, Feb. 16 for what’s billed as an “organizing event” to rally supporters behind her bid for the White House. It’s the latest sign that Democrats are serious about competing for Georgia’s 16 electoral votes after a spate of Republican defeats across metro Atlanta’s suburbs and the near-miss by Stacey Abrams. Just about every presidential hopeful visited Georgia last year to stump with Abrams and other Democrats — and lay the groundwork for their campaigns — as the party circles the state as a potential battleground. A string of visits by other Democratic candidates in the increasingly crowded race for president will soon follow.  Warren kicked off her bid for president on Saturday with a pledge to combat economic inequality and fighting “corrupt” corporate greed. She also tried to put to rest questions surrounding past assertions claiming a Native American identity. The Lawrenceville visit is part of Warren’s seven-state organizing tour that includes stops at each early-voting state. And the selection of Gwinnett as a launch point for her campaign in Georgia was another symbol of the county’s fast-changing politics. The suburb was for decades solidly Republican territory, but Hillary Clinton narrowly carried Gwinnett in 2016 and Abrams dominated the county in November. It’s now a must-win for any Democratic candidate for statewide or federal office. It’s also the heart of the 7th Congressional District,  which is attracting a large field of competitors after Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall announced last week he would not seek another term.  Woodall narrowly held the seat in November, winning the closest House race in the nation. The runner-up, Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, has already announced plans to run again, and many other candidates from both parties are considering bids. 
  • The state of Stacey Abrams’ calendar is busy. Still riding high after giving the Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, Abrams is still more than a month away from the deadline she set to decide what office to seek next. It could be another run in 2022 against Gov. Brian Kemp, who beat her in the closest race for the state’s top job in more than 50 years. She could opt for something sooner, facing off against Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue next year. Nathaniel Rakich of FiveThirtyEight examined her prospects for another job: president. He found that some of the things that helped her come so close to reaching the Governor’s Mansion won’t be there if she makes a bid for the White House. “(I)n a national campaign,” Rakich wrote, “Abrams could not necessarily bank on carrying African-Americans, who have been her base in Georgia, since voters may have a dozen candidates to choose from, including at least two other black candidates, one of whom is a woman. “And despite her fame, Abrams has never won an election for any office higher than state representative; it would be unprecedented for a career politician to earn the party nomination with so little experience. “Abrams’s most challenging obstacle may not even be specific to her. In such a crowded primary field, even a front-runner is more likely to lose than to win.” Also on the presidential front, the consulting firm Bold Blue Campaigns included Abrams in a poll of potential Democratic candidates in 2020. Five percent of likely Democratic primary voters backed Abrams. That put her behind former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Beto O’Rourke, who — like Abrams — gained national attention as a Democrat mounting a serious but unsuccessful challenge in November in a conservative state, in his case a run against Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. She did, however, place ahead of others, including U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. Abrams has shown few signs that she’s seriously considering a run for president. She is, however, maintaining a high profile in Georgia. Her “thank you” tour recently stopped in Gwinnett County. She used the opportunity to endorse the county’s MARTA referendum and also make a case for bipartisan voting rights legislation. She cited the example of Dan Gasaway, the incumbent in a May GOP primary race for a state House seat in North Georgia that still has not been settled nine months later. A second do-over election, following significant court time, has yet to be scheduled in Gasaway’s race against Chris Erwin, who was sworn in as a legislator and then removed from office by a judge. “He had to fight his party and the state to get democracy in his election,” Abrams said of Gasaway. “This is not a partisan issue. This is a people issue. This is a democracy issue. This is our issue.” A new tax problem for Abrams surfaced this past week, although it appears to have been solved. It was reported that a nonprofit Abrams had formed was hit by the state with three liens totaling about $3,500. A spokeswoman attributed them to an error made by a third-party contractor and then produced an email from the state Department of Labor noting that it is working to correct its records to show the liens have been paid. Abrams, who touted full Medicaid expansion while on the campaign trail last year, also found some gratification in seeing Kemp back a push for “waivers” that could lead to a limited expansion of the state’s health care program for the poor and disabled. She called it a “pale facsimile” of what she had sought but also expressed happiness in seeing the state’s Republicans, many who have long resisted Medicaid expansion, at least take steps in that direction. “I don’t care why they came to the party,” Abrams said. “I’m glad they finally showed up, and I hope they finally do the right thing now that they’re here.” On his radar: Watching Abrams with the intensity of an air-traffic controller is state House Speaker David Ralston, who told Fannin County Republicans at a recent dinner that GOP conservatives need to think about their colleagues in metro Atlanta before pushing hard-right positions. Legislation on issues such as abortion, guns and “religious liberty” could put their suburban brethren — that is, those that are left after big Democratic gains in November for legislative seats on the outskirts of Atlanta — in a difficult spot come election time. “Stacey Abrams is coming,” Ralston said. “I don’t know whether she’s running against Senator Perdue or Governor Kemp. But she is a serious opponent. They have other serious people out there. “We have to approach this challenge as if our future depends on it,” he said. “Because it does.” Kemp may feel the same way. Since becoming governor, he has made no public push for legislation that would allow Georgians to carry concealed weapons without a permit, even though he made it a central subject during the early days of his campaign. Asked by Chelsea Beimfohr of 13MAZ in Macon whether he would support such a bill, Kemp said: “I’m not really commenting on that. There’s all kinds of pieces of legislation that are in. I’ve said and I’ll continue to be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I hunt and I shoot and I carry. I won’t just support, but I’ll advocate. We’ll see what the Legislature wants to roll out this year. My positions from the campaign have not changed.” It doesn’t sound like the governor would object if legislators decide to keep such a bill in their holster. A 7th District sweepstakes: The dominoes are beginning to fall now that U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, has chosen not to seek re-election in 2020. Carolyn Bourdeaux, the Democrat who lost to Woodall in November by 433 votes once all the ballots were counted and recounted in the 7th Congressional District, is ready for another campaign. Now that she’s gone through the process once already, Bourdeaux has a lot of things going for her. They include name recognition, money in the bank and endorsements from former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, and U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson and John Lewis. Former state Rep. Buzz Brockway, another Lawrenceville Republican, is out. Brockway said on Facebook that it “is not the right time for me to run for Congress.” “There are a couple of good candidates considering running — friends whom I would be proud to support,” he wrote. Whether that means Narender Reddy is anybody’s guess. Reddy, an Indian-American businessman and board member for the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, says he’s thinking about running as a Republican to replace Woodall. John Eaves’ plans are vague. But the former Fulton County Commission chairman, who also ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Atlanta, announced on Facebook that he is moving to Gwinnett County. That would put him in the 7th District. Eaves, however, has said nothing about whether this move to the suburbs includes making a run for Congress. Plenty of other names are being thrown around as potential candidates for Woodall’s seat. On the Democratic side, there’s state Reps. Brenda Lopez, Pete Marin and Sam Park, as well as Marquis Cole and Nabilah Islam. On the Republican side, there’s state Sens. P.K. Martin and Renee Unterman, state Rep. David Clark, former state Sen. David Shafer, former state Rep. Scott Hilton, as well as Rick Desai, Shane Hazel and Mike Royal. A payday pop? State legislators would be in for an increase in salary if Senate Bill 81 wins passage. But this pay raise would come with a bonus: Additional bumps in compensation in the future could come without one of those votes that always appear inconvenient at election time. Doug Richards of 11Alive brought attention to the legislation, which he says would raise the lawmakers’ $17,000-a-year salaries by 300 percent. State Sen. Valencia Seay of Riverdale is the the sponsor. She’s a Democrat in a GOP-controlled chamber, so prospects for the bill and subsequent raises would seem dim. That is until you look down the list of co-sponsors. The fourth signature is that of Senate Rules Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, whose clout always makes him a good guy to have in your corner. The bill is set up to tie salaries to the state’s median annual household income, so raises would go up automatically. In 2017, the most recent year available, the U.S. Census Bureau listed Georgia’s median household income at $52,977. That’s some upward mobility.
  • A bipartisan border security bill that raced through both chambers of Congress on Thursday won over several Georgia Republicans along the way.  The spending deal, which would set aside nearly $1.4 billion for President Donald Trump’s border wall and stave off another government shutdown through September, prompted “yes” votes from four Georgia Republicans.  One of the more notable votes in favor came from Republican U.S. Sen. David Perdue, an immigration hawk who has often sought to pull his White House ally to the right.  Perdue visited the Texas border earlier this week and said his experience there underscored the need for additional spending on barriers and other resources.  'This bipartisan package is a step in the right direction and allows President Trump to better secure the most concerning areas along our southern border,' said Perdue, who is running for reelection in 2020. All five of the state’s Democrats opted to support the plan, bucking some House progressives who rejected the compromise.  Seven Georgia Republicans voted against the compromise. Most said it did not include enough money for the wall, and others griped about the lack of money for Hurricane Michael cleanup.  “Our nation is facing a very real crisis, and this bill does not go far enough to secure our border and stop the influx of illegal immigration and deadly drugs that are pouring into our country, nor does it provide the much needed disaster assistance for Georgia farmers who were devastated by Hurricane Michael last October,” said Evans Republican Rick Allen.  Several opponents also complained about the condensed timeframe under which the 1,000-plus-page bill was considered. Lawmakers voted on the compromise less than 24 hours after the bill text was released.  Tom Graves of Ranger was Georgia’s only representative on the border negotiating committee. He was also the only member of the 17-member panel who refused to sign off on the legislation before it was released.  “I hoped that this would be a transparent process, with vigorous debate and an outcome that improved the security of our country. Instead, we discovered that Democrats had already written a bill before our first meeting,” Graves said.  The measure ultimately passed the House 300 to 128, hours after it cruised through the Senate 83 to 16. Trump was expected to sign the legislation, as well as take other executive actions that would allow him to circumvent Congress for additional wall money.  The announcement prompted loud criticism from many Democrats, including Lithonia U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson.  “It’s a sad day for the nation when one man can falsely claim there is a national emergency simply to untangle himself from a political problem of his own making,” he said.  How lawmakers voted:  YES Republicans: U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue. U.S. Reps. Drew Ferguson of West Point and Rob Woodall of Lawrenceville Democrats: U.S. Reps. Sanford Bishop of Albany; Hank Johnson of Lithonia; John Lewis of Atlanta; David Scott of Atlanta NO Republicans: U.S. Reps. Buddy Carter of Pooler; Austin Scott of Tifton; Doug Collins of Gainesville; Jody Hice of Monroe; Barry Loudermilk of Cassville; Rick Allen of Evans; Tom Graves of Ranger Read more:  » Ga. lawmakers fume after Michael money omitted from spending deal » Savannah port boosters: Fed funding safe under national emergency  » Search for wall funds could hit Georgia projects » Ga. Republicans approach emerging border deal with caution
  • Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced a proposal Wednesday that would authorize his office to pursue Medicaid waivers to give the state more flexibility in using federal health care funding, The Associated Press reports. Governor Kemp joined WSB Radio’s Scott Slade Thursday morning to discuss the plan. LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW BELOW:
  • Gov. Brian Kemp unveiled legislation Wednesday that could remake health care for hundreds of thousands of Georgians. Or just a few. The Patients First Act would give the governor wide latitude to approve a range of options in pursuit of federal “waivers” with the aim of improving government-funded health care access for the poor and middle class. That could mean something close to expanding Medicaid to cover hundreds of thousands of poor Georgians who currently have no health insurance. Or it could mean small, tailored pilot projects that stabilize insurance premiums and offer more focused mental health services. The legislation was accompanied by a show of Republican force: Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and House Speaker David Ralston both signaled their support for the plan, and Duncan stood by Kemp as he unveiled it. Most of the Republicans in the state Senate co-sponsored the legislation. But no Democrats added their names to the bill, and there was little sign of bipartisan support for the idea. Several Democratic leaders said they would support nothing short of full-scale Medicaid expansion and worried that the measure gives Kemp too much power over the process. The governor pushed back on those concerns, telling reporters he wants to find a way “that’s focused on Georgia.” He added that he’s mindful of the broad leeway the legislation gives him, including the final sign-off on any agreement proposed to the federal government. “It is giving me the authority to do this, and I take great responsibility with that,” he said. “But I’m not trying to be the Lone Ranger on this — we’re all in this together, we’re all working to together to tackle all the issues we have.” He also vowed the process wouldn’t lead to outright expansion of the Medicaid program, something he campaigned against during the governor’s race. He has said such an expansion, which analysts say would add more than 500,000 Georgians to the state’s rolls, could be too costly in the long run.  The process could lead to a more limited expansion of the program, but Kemp said it’s too early to determine what that would look like. “Look, everybody keeps talking about Medicaid expansion. We are working on a couple of things here. We want to lower private-sector health care costs — that’s what’s killing hardworking Georgians out there,” he said. “And we want to innovate a health care system that’s not working.” ‘This is bigger’ Kemp’s administration wants the waivers, first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week, to gain federal approval by next year. They would cover two groups of people. The first category includes very poor people with incomes up to the poverty level, which in 2019 is about $12,000 for a single individual. The legislation forbids the waiver proposal from covering Georgians who make above that level, though some are already eligible for other forms of cheap or free coverage. The other group involves those who use the Affordable Care Act’s exchange market to buy private health insurance. A separate waiver, if approved, could allow the state to set up some kind of fund to keep those ACA plans from undergoing such big price spikes. The Kemp administration is already facing pressure over how to tailor the Medicaid waiver. The left-leaning Georgia Budget and Policy Institute outlined a range of recommendations that call for year-round enrollment and no work requirements, which analyst Laura Harker said could ultimately jeopardize access to care. Some conservatives want work requirements embedded in the program, but with exemptions that cover people who are caring for children or the elderly. Others oppose any step toward growing the program, fearing it will help prop up the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and put Georgia taxpayers on the hook for more long-term costs. Those concerns were aired last week during a debate over the $1 million Kemp included in his budget proposal to finance the consultant to devise a waiver plan. House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, R-Milton, cautioned against adding “an entirely new entitlement program” that could shift state dollars away from education and other priorities. Both sides of the debate have fresh fiscal numbers to use: The cost of full Medicaid expansion would be about $200 million a year, according to an estimate state analysts prepared earlier this year. That amount would be matched 9-to-1 by the federal government, pouring billions of federal dollars into the state’s health care industry. The audit projects as many as 535,000 newly eligible Georgians would join the program by 2022, along with 40,000 other people who are already eligible. But if the bill passes with the limit of covering only those who make up to 100 percent of poverty level, that actually has the potential to cost the state more money than full expansion. Under full expansion, covering those who make up to 138 percent of the poverty level, states receive a special deal and only have to pay 10 percent of the cost while the feds pay the rest. If the program covers fewer people, the portion the state has to pay can go much higher. “Any discussion on health care is a positive step,” said Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, D-Stone Mountain. “But I have concerns about the governor’s bill since it only helps people at 100 percent of poverty. I’m disappointed he’s not looking at helping as many people as possible. It’s very limited and unimaginative in scope. But I’m looking forward to talking with the governor’s staff about what’s next.” Pressure has built on Kemp since his narrow November election victory to take action. AJC polls have consistently shown that more than 70 percent of Georgians support expanding Medicaid coverage for the poor. And a growing number of Republican leaders, unnerved by a spate of election losses across Atlanta’s suburbs, are embracing the idea. The figures behind the Senate measure reinforce that narrative. State Sen. Blake Tillery, a conservative from rural Vidalia, is the main sponsor of the bill. But one of his top allies is state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, a Marietta physician who is one of only two GOP women in the Senate — and among a small number of suburban Republicans in the chamber. “This is bigger than just getting everyone covered. We have to work on making the whole system better,” said Kirkpatrick, who suggested the waiver process could partly focus on expanding mental health coverage. “This is a way to get the ball moving.” ‘Pale facsimile’ Democrats, meanwhile, say nothing short of full-on Medicaid expansion will suffice. They pitch it as an economic boost — some studies have shown it will help spur tens of thousands of new jobs — as well as help bolster Georgia’s financially struggling rural hospitals. “This doesn’t go far enough,” said House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville. “They’ve contorted it so that it will be more expensive, cover fewer people and take longer than Medicaid expansion. That’s the trifecta.” Other Democrats had a more guarded reaction. Stacey Abrams, who was narrowly defeated by Kemp in November, criticized Republicans for supporting a “pale facsimile” of Medicaid expansion but applauded the GOP for taking a step that could eventually add more people to the rolls. “I think they listened to communities that are losing jobs, losing opportunities, and people who are losing their lives,” she said after a rally in Gwinnett County. “I don’t care why they came to the party. I’m glad they finally showed up, and I hope they finally do the right thing now that they’re here.” It was also welcomed by the small group of Republicans who bucked party lines to call for an expansion. Among them is state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, an anesthetist from Rome who said Georgia should look to Indiana, which included work requirements as part of a Medicaid expansion, as a model. “It’s a positive step in the right direction,” he said. “We’ve seen what’s worked in other states, and we need to move toward a preventive health care system.”
  • Last year’s mass shooting of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., refocused national attention on gun control and led many to call for politicians to stop accepting money from the National Rifle Association. But in the campaigning that followed, Georgia politicians still accepted thousands from the NRA and other pro-gun groups. But that’s not the whole story. While the NRA remains a potent element in Georgia’s political climate, there are signs the group’s monopoly on gun issues is weakening. Contributions to Georgia’s congressional delegation dropped by 35 percent compared to four years ago, during the last mid-term election. The decline in spending mirrors a national trend as the NRA is faced with serious financial difficulties, but Sarah Bryner, research director of the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics, said there is another trend at work. “The NRA’s power for decades has been its ability to activate its supporters,” Bryner said. “There’s not really an answer on the other side. This cycle was different.” Following the Parkland shooting, gun-control advocates took to the streets in mass demonstrations, students staged walkouts and donors opened their wallets. While the NRA’s political spending has been stagnant or on the decline, gun-control groups, like Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords PAC, poured millions into congressional campaigns. According to the CRP analysis, gun-control groups spent $11.9 million in political donations and independent spending in the 2018 election cycle, while the NRA and several smaller pro-gun groups spent $9.9 million. For voters who support gun rights and those who support further restrictions, the change in the landscape is significant. Gun rights advocates have long been able to count on the NRA for significant financial backing. That backing translates into campaign spending that funds advertisements, pamphlets sent to selected voters at home and turnout efforts — and ultimately, election victories. The change means those seeking restrictions on guns now have a new funding stream to tap to be competitive in a close district. In Georgia, look no farther than Georgia’s 6th District in Atlanta’s northern arc, a House district once held by Newt Gingrich. Newcomer Lucy McBath unseated an incumbent Republican, Karen Handel, in a district that has been trending Democratic. The infusion of millions of dollars in outside spending from gun-control groups helped McBath to be competitive. The impact of political spending on the gun issue will likely become more pronounced in Georgia as more suburban districts like the sixth become competitive for Democrats. Georgia’s 6th District targeted The story of political spending supporting or opposing gun rights in Georgia is more nuanced. Pro-gun groups gave five times more in campaign donations than gun-control groups, but gun-control groups dominated in independent spending on things like mailers and television ads. Georgia’s congressional delegation took in more than $20,000 in direct contributions from the NRA’s Virginia-based Political Victory Fund, while state-level candidates received another $14,000, led by Gov. Brian Kemp, who received $5,000 from the NRA’s political action committee. Much of the outside spending went to Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. The tossup district that stretches across the north metro matched freshman Rep. Karen Handel, a Republican, against Democrat Lucy McBath, a national spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety who lost her son to gun violence. According to CRP’s calculations, pro-gun groups plowed more than $86,000 into Handel’s reelection campaign. But gun-control groups, led by Everytown, contributed $4 million to elect McBath, virtually all of which came as outside spending. McBath defeated Handel in an upset that made national headlines. And just a few days after being sworn in, she stood behind House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to support a bill expanding criminal background checks to most gun purchases. “I intend to make sure I am working on the front lines of this issue while I’m in Washington,” McBath said this week in an MSNBC interview. “We are in a very interesting time in our nation right now. For the first time in about a decade we are now actually having hearings that I get to sit in on with the judiciary committee.” The NRA had better luck in the gubernatorial race, despite a rocky start. The organization backed Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in the Republican primary, a nod to Cagle’s pledge to punish Delta Airlines for its decision to end airfare discounts for NRA members. After Kemp upended Cagle in a runoff election, the NRA backtracked, formally announcing its support for Kemp for governor on Sept. 21. “Brian Kemp is an unwavering supporter of our Second Amendment freedoms,” said Chris Cox, chairman of the NRA’s Political Victory Fund. “He is the only candidate running for governor who can be trusted to protect our constitutional right to self-defense.” But the organization had already made amends for backing the losing candidate by cutting Kemp a $5,000 check several weeks earlier. In addition, NRA board members chipped in $1,525 of their own to Kemp’s campaign. But the NRA’s real contribution came from almost $850,000 in independent expenditures. Most of that went to advertising aimed as much at defeating Democrat Stacey Abrams, whom the organization claimed would confiscate Georgians’ firearms if elected, than at electing Kemp. NRA support to Dems dwindles While the NRA’s giving power has dipped, Bryner of the Center for Responsive Politics said the group’s strategy to support Republicans almost exclusively has made gun rights a more polarizing issue than ever. A $1,000 contribution won’t make or break a campaign, but when it comes from the NRA, it’s a stamp of approval for conservative voters or a deal breaker for liberals, she said. A decade ago, the NRA contributed regularly to dozens of Democrats in Congress. No more, Bryner said. “You see candidates advertising their F ratings from the NRA,” she said. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, is a notable exception. Bishop received a $2,500 contribution from the NRA PAC in this last cycle and was one of just three House Democrats in the nation to accept money from the group. Bishop has long accepted money from the NRA and other pro-gun organizations, but the checks from the NRA have gotten smaller over the years. In a statement from his congressional office, the 14-term lawmaker tried to appeal to both sides in an extremely polarizing debate. “Any life impacted by gun violence is tragic,” he said. “I support the Constitution of the United States in its entirety, including the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. That right, however, is appropriately subject to reasonable measures including background checks to limit access to those whose mental health or criminal history demonstrates a lack of requisite responsibility.” But Bishop is one of just nine House Democrats not to sign on the background check bill. The bill has five Republican co-sponsors.
  • State regulators filed three liens worth about $3,500 in the past year against a nonprofit created by Stacey Abrams. The Democrat said through a spokeswoman that the liens were “entirely due to third-party contractor error” and that records still haven’t been updated despite timely payments. The filings involve Third Sector Development, an organization that Abrams created in 1998 that was slapped with four tax liens worth $13,000 between 2014 and 2016 citing unpaid unemployment contributions. Her campaign for governor told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in February 2018 that a withholding error from a payroll service was to blame, and records show those liens remain pending. Since then, the state has filed three additional liens also claiming a failure to pay state unemployment taxes. The first was filed in February for roughly $1,400, then came an August lien for $986 followed by a November lien for about $1,200. An Abrams spokeswoman, Caitlin Highland, said the initial liens were incurred because the payroll service mistakenly paid federal unemployment insurance instead of state unemployment insurance. The pending liens have been paid, she said, though paperwork to reflect that hasn’t yet been filed by state officials. Highland provided two emails sent Monday from a supervisor in the state Department of Labor who wrote that he was aware of the issue and that officials were “just now making the needed corrections.” “They are working closely with Department of Labor staff to correctly credit the accounts,” Highland said, “and bring this matter to closure.” Highland said the vendor has paid the correct amount each quarter since the first round of liens were filed, but that the sum was applied to past liens instead of toward new taxes due. That triggered the new liens, she said. Since her narrow loss in the governor’s race to Brian Kemp, Abrams has emerged as an even higher-profile national figure. She delivered the Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address last week and is weighing a 2020 challenge against U.S. Sen. David Perdue. Here’s Highland’s full statement: “In spite of timely payments to Georgia, Third Sector Development is awaiting final action from the Department of Labor to fully resolve this matter. Last year, Third Sector took steps immediately to satisfy liens imposed for unemployment insurance paid to the federal rather than state government, due entirely to third party contractor error. Unfortunately, the process has taken several months and remains unresolved. However, while the organization has waited for a resolution, Third Sector Development has made timely payments to Georgia; however, under the department rules, these recent payments have been applied to the past liens and not counted towards new taxes due, as they should. They are working closely with DoL staff to correctly credit the accounts and bring this matter to closure.” Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/news/georgia-government/.

News

  • A marriage proposal in a room filled with swine may not seem ideal, but a Texas man was perfectly willing to hog the attention away from the pigs Sunday morning. >> Read more trending news  Will Hussey made his “pig-posal” to Kate Jimerson at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, KSAT reported. Hussey’s marriage proposal came four years after they met at the show’s swine barn, the television station reported. Jimerson thought her family was at the Stock Show to watch her younger sister compete in the barrow show, but Hussey surprised her. 'He got down on one knee and said, 'This is where I met you four years ago. I knew then I wanted to marry you.'” Jimerson told KSAT. “So then he asked me and I started crying.” 'The Stock Show already holds a special place for both of us, so why not make it something we can tell our kids about someday,' Hussey told the television station. The couple has not set a wedding date, but they already have next year’s Stock Show on their calendar, KSAT reported.
  • When he made the announcement he was declaring a national emergency, President Donald Trump said he expected to be sued over the move. So far, a handful of activists and even state attorneys general have said they are looking at taking the president to court or have filed a lawsuit already.  Take a look at the lawsuits that are currently pending or will soon be filed. Public Citizen Public Citizen is an advocacy group that filed a suit Friday after the president’s Rose Garden announcement. The group is filing on behalf of three Texas landowners and an environmental group to block the emergency decree. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., The Washington Post reported. >>Read: Can Congress repeal the national emergency declaration? Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington hasn’t filed suit directly on Trump but instead is suing the Justice Department, claiming documents were not provided, including legal opinions and communications, related to Trump’s decision, USA Today reported. The group is using a Freedom of Information Act request submitted concerning the proposed border barrier. Center for Biological Diversity Center for Biological Diversity is an environmental group. It claims the president did not identify a legal authority to declare the emergency. The group said the wall will block wildlife from its natural habitat “and could result in the extirpation of jaguars, ocelots and other endangered species within the United States,” according to the Post. >>Read: Trump signs funding bill to avoid government shutdown, declares emergency to build border wall American Civil Liberties Union The ACLU has not yet filed but is preparing a suit that says that Trump can’t redirect the money paid by taxpayers unless it is for construction that directly supports the military, the Post reported. ACLU officials said the suit will be filed early this week, saying, “There is no emergency. Members of Congress from both parties, security experts, and Americans who live at the border have all said so. What the president is doing is yet another illegal and dangerous power grab in the service of his anti-immigrant agenda.” The group called the declaration an “abuse of power” and says it “violates the constitutional checks and balances that protect us.” >>Read the latest from our Washington Insider Jamie Dupree The ACLU is using the president’s own words against him from when he said, “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.” >> Read more trending news  California attorney general Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California, will be joined by New Mexico, Oregon, Minnesota, New Jersey, Hawaii and Connecticut in trying to stop the emergency declaration from proceeding. >>Read: National emergency likely to be blocked by courts, DOJ tells White House: reports “We’re confident there are at least 8 billion ways that we can prove harm. And once we are all clear, all the different states are clear, what pots of money that taxpayers sent to D.C. he’s going to raid, which Congress dedicated to different types of services -- whether it’s emergency response services or whether it’s fires or mudslides in California or maybe tornadoes and floods in other parts of the country or whether it’s our military men and women and their families who live on military installations that might -- that might have money taken away from them, or whether it’s money taken away from drug interdiction efforts in places like California, a number of states, and certainly Americans, will be harmed. And we’re all going to be prepared,” Becerra said on ABC News’ “This Week.”  >>Read: Trump's border wall: What is a national emergency? A spokesperson for the attorney general of Colorado, Phil Weiser, said his state will also be joining the suit, KDVR reported. The spokesperson said Weiser decided that the state will be hurt if money is transferred from military installations to the wall, according to KDVR.
  • From a court watcher’s perspective it’s apparent to most that the upcoming trial of Ryan Duke, charged with the 2005 murder of South Georgia high school teacher Tara Grinstead is sure to be nothing short of a spectacle of epic proportions. We got a preview of things to come during - of all things - a bond hearing where Duke asked, for the first time in two years, to be released on bond. It wasn’t the denial of bond, nor the fact that Duke asked for bond that is particularly noteworthy. It’s what the bond hearing devolved into that raised eyebrows. Despite losing the motion, the defense unexpectedly was able to depose the lead GBI investigator on a wide range of topics in a dress rehearsal for what promises to be a most controversial trial.  To start, let’s have a look at what a bond hearing is supposed to be.  It’s uncommon for bond to be set in murder cases but it’s not unheard of. Courts are supposed to consider the following factors in making bond decisions and the burden of proof is on the defendant to show that he:  Poses no significant risk of fleeing from the jurisdiction of the court or failing to appear in court when required;  Poses no significant threat or danger to any person, to the community, or to any property in the community;  Poses no significant risk of committing any felony pending trial; and  Poses no significant risk of intimidating witnesses or otherwise obstructing the administration of justice.  Probable cause is not an issue and of course neither is guilt or innocence. A bond hearing is not a trial.  The Duke bond hearing started out as most bond hearings do. The defense called Duke’s brother to testify regarding each of the factors set out above. But then it started a downward spiral into the surreal when the prosecutor called the lead GBI case agent as a witness - presumably as a rebuttal to the defense. A state’s witness, such as an investigator, can occasionally testify - to a point - about “what happened” because that’s relevant - to a point - for the court to determine whether the person poses a danger to the community. But in this case, the testimony was literally all over the place and went into minute detail about many things that have never been heard before. The “bond hearing” was effectively transformed into a deposition - a legal luxury not normally available to a criminal defendant in Georgia.  So just what did we learn from this “bond” hearing? We learned that DNA from the bodily fluid of a police officer was mixed with the victim’s blood on some bedding and that “touch DNA” from Grinstead and Duke (along with DNA from at least two other people) was on a latex glove found outside her residence. “Touch DNA” has its own share of problems in terms of reliability and we can safely expect the defense to explore those problems at trial. Some of that other unidentified DNA from the glove could have come from Bo Dukes - the person accused of helping cover up the murder - and who the defense claims is the actual killer.  We learned there were many investigative steps that could have been taken to verify statements made by both Duke and Dukes. The defense will argue that these follow up steps point to a biased investigation. This could have a huge impact in a trial where the defense will claim that the defendants confession was a false confession.  We learned the GBI, in a breach of protocol and constitutional law, interviewed / talked with Duke twice after he had a lawyer. These interviews were undocumented in the GBI case file. They were not recorded. The DA apparently was unaware at the time that this tactic was being employed by the GBI until the defense raised it with them. The agent didn’t even sign in at the jail. We can only speculate as to why not.  On top of all this, an abundance of otherwise inadmissible evidence consisting of hearsay and innuendo managed to come out publicly at a bond hearing. Most of this wouldn’t have seen the light of day at a trial. As the prosecution correctly pointed out “hearsay” may be admissible at a bond hearing, but it still has to be reliable evidence - not a regurgitation of all the salacious rumors from 2005. And it must be relevant to the issue of bond. It may turn out that the DA made a great tactical mistake by calling their lead case agent to testify and turn this bond hearing into an evidentiary free-for-all with no apparent boundaries. At a minimum it was surely heartbreaking for friends and family of the victim to have to re-live all the pain of the last 13 years by having old wounds reopened in such painful detail.  I’ve previously written about why the venue for this trial really needs to be changed. Now more than ever the jury pool is really tainted - as if it weren’t already. Philip Holloway, WSB legal analyst, is a criminal lawyer who heads his own firm in Cobb County, Georgia. A former prosecutor and adjunct professor of criminal justice, he is former president of the Cobb County Bar Association's criminal law section. Follow him on Twitter: @PhilHollowayEsq The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. 
  • Police in Kansas City, Kansas, arrested a man Sunday suspected of carjacking a vehicle, stealing the driver’s phone and taking off with two children in the car, the The Kansas City Star reported. >> Read more trending news  Police said a woman was making a delivery in the area when the suspect, armed with a rifle, took the vehicle, WDAF reported.  The woman ran to a store to call police, the Star reported. “It was as bad as you would think if someone had your kids,” the store manager, Robert Edwards, told the newspaper. “She was as stressed as you would imagine. I’m glad she got the kids back.” The two children, 4 and 7, had been taken out of the car and were found by a neighbor, who called police the Star reported. The children were not injured and were returned to their mother, the newspaper reported. According to Kansas City police, the suspect returned to the scene, leaving the original vehicle and then stole a second car at gunpoint, WDAF reported. Police were able to catch the suspect, who was driving a blue SUV, and returned it to its owner, the Star reported.
  • At the same time President Donald Trump was making a Rose Garden announcement Friday declaring a national emergency to fund a wall along the country’s southern border, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced they would fight Trump’s declaration “using every remedy available.” >> Read more trending news Pelosi and Schumer did not lay out specific remedies they might employ to stop the president from diverting funds from other projects to use to construct a border wall, but several Democrats members of Congress have promised a joint resolution of disapproval aimed at repealing the declaration and stopping Trump’s plans. Would Congress be successful in passing a resolution that would hamper the president’s bid to fund border security by declaring a national emergency? It’s possible, but not likely. >>Trump's border wall: What is a national emergency? Here’s a look at what could happen. A resolution of disapprovalCongress could approve a resolution that contests the status of the national emergency Trump has declared. They can do so under the National Emergencies Act of 1976. The resolution, if passed, would stop the plan to divert money from other government programs to build the border wall. The resolution could pass with a simple majority vote in the House and Senate – 218 votes in the House and 51 in the Senate. There is a Democrat majority in the House where a resolution could easily pass. There are 48 Democrat members of the Senate. Democrats would need four Republicans to vote with them to pass a joint resolution. Reps. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, have said they will introduce a bill in the House to block the declaration. By Friday afternoon, Castro told The Washington Post he had gathered more than 60 co-sponsors for the resolution. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, told ABC's “This Week” that she believes the Senate has enough votes for such a resolution. 'I think we do,' she said. 'Now, whether we have enough for an override and veto, that's a different story. But frankly, I think there's enough people in the Senate who are concerned that what he's doing is robbing from the military and the DOD to go build this wall.' If a resolution should pass both chambers of Congress, it would go to the president’s desk for a signature. The president would almost certainly veto the resolution, marking the first time in his term he has used the veto power. If he does veto the resolution, it would go back to Congress where it would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate to override the veto. In the House, 290 votes would be needed. In the Senate, the number would be 67. A lawsuit – or several of them The president has broad powers under the National Emergencies Act, so until the provisions of Trump’s declaration are made public, it’s unclear what someone could sue him over concerning the declaration. But sued he will be -- some suits are already in the works  -- and here is where those suits could come from: Congress: It’s likely that House Democrats would sue on grounds that the president overreached his powers by bypassing the power Congress has to control funding for government programs and projects. However, Democrats in Congress would have to first establish that they have the right to sue the White House, and that can be difficult since the president was given the authority to declare a national emergency under the National Emergencies Act in 1976. The House could challenge Trump's definition of an emergency, but the definition in the National Emergency Act is vague, leaving what is a national emergency pretty much up to the president. Activist groups: The American Civil Liberties Union said on Friday it plans to sue the president over what they call his “unconstitutional power grab that hurts American communities.” Landowners: Those who own land along the area where the president has proposed a border wall could file suit over the seizure of their property if that happens. However, the government is generally allowed to buy up private property for public use – such as when privately-held land is taken to make room for a freeway. The practice is called eminent domain. It is often an uphill fight for landowners. States: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has promised that he will file a suit against the White House claiming that his state will be harmed if Trump diverts funds from other projects to build a wall. He said that four other states, New Mexico, Oregon, Hawaii and Minnesota will join his state in the pending lawsuit.Nevada’s attorney general has also threatened a suit.
  • A man has been targeting dessert shops in a Texas town, committing four robberies -- two in the same business, KHOU reported. >> Read more trending news  The Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt shop in Cypress was robbed Jan. 15, the television station reported. Surveillance cameras caught a bald man with a goatee, who walked up to the cash register, yanked it open and took the money, KHOU reported. 'I saw him and I saw what he was doing,' store manager Debra Santos told the television station. 'You just don't know people now a days. I didn't know if he had a gun or a weapon.' On Feb. 14, the bald bandit struck again, robbing a different Orange Leaf in Cypress, KHOU reported. Later that day, the man robbed Shipley’s Donuts in Cypress. The manager chased the thief, but the man sped away in a white car, the television station reported. On Feb. 16, the thief returned to the Orange Leaf he had robbed a month earlier, taking the store’s second cash register, according to KHOU.  'He said, ‘I'm sorry I have to do this,’ and he ripped the cables and took off again,' Santos told the television station. Santos said she hopes the thief’s robbery pattern will trip him up. 'I hope they catch him soon,' Santos told KHOU. 'He seems to be repetitive, so hopefully he'll have a break in his pattern and they'll catch him.