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Georgia Politics

    U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath had been listening to constituents for an hour Saturday when Christine Rozman of Marietta rose to talk about immigration. Rozman, a self-described conservative, said her heart went out to people fleeing trouble in other countries. But she said the United States in the past had limited immigration to allow newcomers to assimilate and to protect the “integrity of what America stood for.” She said immigrants were a financial drain, and she was “scared for our country.” Each comment brought a few muttered retorts from a crowd packed with McBath supporters, prompting Rozman to respond, “I’m sorry if you guys listen to fake news all the time and you’re not educated.” That drew loud groans from the crowd. And that’s when McBath piped up. “This is an open forum for everyone in this district,” the Marietta Democrat told about 150 people at a Marietta church. “Please do not break down the good discourse we’ve had up until this point.” The crowd burst into applause. The exchange underscores the tightrope McBath walks as she seeks to consolidate support in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, where she eked out a victory five months ago. It’s a district long dominated by Republicans – and one the GOP is targeting as it tries to win back control of the House of Representatives. On Saturday, McBath vowed to be a voice for bipartisanship in a polarized political climate. “I represent Republicans. I represent Democrats. I represent independents,” she told the crowd at her first town hall meeting, drawing more applause. “I represent you all.” Representing everyone in a polarized political climate is a tall order – especially in the 6th District. It includes parts of Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties, and in recent decades has been represented by such conservatives as Newt Gingrich, Johnny Isakson and Tom Price. But suburban Atlanta has been evolving from a conservative bastion to a political battleground for years – a process accelerated in part by the rise of President Donald Trump and energized by last year’s nationally watched Stacey Abrams gubernatorial campaign. Last November, McBath – a gun control advocate and former airline flight attendant – ousted Republican incumbent Karen Handel by fewer than 3,300 votes. Now Handel is seeking a rematch. State Sen. Brandon Beach, R-Alpharetta, has also announced his candidacy. On Saturday, McBath touted her accomplishments since she took office in January. The House passed a measure requiring federal background checks for gun sales – a priority for McBath, whose son was killed in a shooting. The U.S. House also passed an expansive elections and ethics overhaul. Neither bill is going anywhere in the Republican-controlled Senate. PHOTOS: Lucy McBath’s ‘community listening session’ The crowd quizzed the representative on immigration, health care, gun control and other issues Saturday. McBath sought to distance herself from controversial proposals from some of her Democratic colleagues. She said she supported incremental measures to shore up Obamacare, rather than jumping to a broader “Medicare for all” approach to health care. She said she does not favor abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. And when someone in the audience won applause for saying there is support in the district for impeaching Trump, McBath tamped down such talk – without ruling it out. “Impeachment is a very, very serious process. It is not to be taken lightly,” she said. “We’re not running after the president (saying), ‘Impeach, impeach.’ ” McBath pledged to work with the president where possible, but also to hold him accountable. “My role is to make sure all the checks and balances are working,” she said, “to make sure that no one person, no one committee is above the rule of law.” McBath’s performance won plaudits from her fans. “She gives me hope, because she’s on the right side of the issues,” said Holly Simnel of Marietta. She even won compliments from some conservatives. Rozman was glad McBath stuck up for her right to comment at the meeting, and she welcomed the representative’s pledge of bipartisanship. “I was pleasantly surprised,” Rozman said. “I hope she is sincere.”
  • U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s popularity remains steady among Georgia voters as he heads into a tough 2020 re-election, but an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll shows the first-term Republican continues to struggle with voters in densely populated metro Atlanta. The poll also shows the favorability of Stacey Abrams, the potential Democratic challenger to Perdue with the highest profile, slipping among Georgia voters as she considers whether to run for the Senate, governor or the White House. The new poll offers a snapshot of the state’s political landscape as Democrats focus on capturing a Georgia U.S. Senate seat for the first time since Zell Miller retired in 2004. Perdue, a former Fortune 500 chief executive, has vowed that his second term in the Senate will be his last. The poll was conducted March 24 through Monday by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. Read more: AJC poll: Kemp’s approval ratings on the rise; Trump still underwater AJC poll: Strong support for Roe; opinion closer on ‘heartbeat bill’ Interactive: Complete poll results PDF: Poll crosstabs Roughly 47% of likely Georgia voters rated Perdue favorably, statistically unchanged from a similar AJC poll released in January. That’s about 7 percentage points ahead of President Donald Trump, his close ally who is also running for re-election next year. Both Trump and Perdue are likely to face an uphill battle in Atlanta’s fast-changing northern suburbs, which punished Republican candidates in last year’s midterms. But Perdue’s campaign hopes to improve on Gov. Brian Kemp’s performance in the area, after he lost two once-reliable Republican strongholds, Cobb and Gwinnett counties, to Abrams. The poll shows Perdue has room to grow. While regional breakdowns of the poll are less precise because of the smaller number of voters included, they provide a general picture of support. About 39% of voters in metro Atlanta — defined as Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties — approve of him. Across the state, only 25% of voters view him unfavorably, and about 28% don’t have an opinion. Many voters haven’t tuned in yet, particularly because the Democratic field remains unsettled. “I’m happy with what I see so far,” June Sablick, a Flowery Branch hairdresser, said of Perdue and state Republicans. She’s motivated, too, by the specter of another Abrams campaign. “I’ve never liked Stacey Abrams. I just don’t like her actions, her ways, her personality. I don’t like her overall demeanor. Everything about her is wrong,” Sablick said. “I’m just glad she’s not running right now.” Abrams has given herself an April deadline to decide whether she’ll challenge Perdue and recently said she could wait until the fall to announce a presidential run, leading some Democrats to predict she’ll pass on a Senate bid. She’s said she’s keeping all options open. Washington Democrats have intensified their courtship of Abrams. U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters that “it’s certainly not too late” for Abrams to hop into the race, and he hinted she would receive a plum assignment if she won. “I think she’d be a great, great senator,” he said. “And I’ve told her I think she could play a major role in the Senate the minute she got here and how important it was to the country.” Several other Democrats have also expressed interest in challenging Perdue should Abrams pass on a 2020 run. At the front of the line is former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who filed paperwork to explore a Senate bid. Other potential contenders include former 6th Congressional District candidate Jon Ossoff and state Sen. Jen Jordan. Each would have work to do to build name recognition that approaches Abrams’. The poll showed about 45% of Georgia voters view her favorably, compared with 52% three months ago. Her unfavorable rating jumped 5 percentage points to 45%. Only about 1 in 10 voters don’t have an opinion about her. Abrams struggled particularly with men, older voters and conservatives. And one-third of moderates gave her unfavorable reviews. But she fared best with women, minorities and voters in metro Atlanta. One of those voters is Patricia Budd, a soon-to-be retiree in Smyrna. She was impressed by Abrams’ performance in last year’s gubernatorial race against Kemp and thinks she’d have an “excellent chance” of defeating Perdue. “She’s smart. She’s very articulate,” Budd said. “She just really stands out.”
  • Seven of 10 Georgia voters say they oppose overturning the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that guaranteed the right to an abortion, according to a new Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll. Those surveyed were more closely split on a pending state law that would outlaw the procedure at about six weeks in most cases. Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign the abortion legislation. About 49% oppose the bill, according to the poll, with about 44% saying they support it. Nearly 6% of respondents said they neither supported nor opposed the measure. Those with opinions had strong ones — about 39% of those polled said they “strongly opposed” the legislation and almost 26% “strongly support” it. RELATED>> Interactive: Complete poll results AJC poll: Kemp’s approval ratings on the rise; Trump still underwater PDF: Poll crosstabs The poll results highlight how deeply polarizing the issue is for Georgians. Bobbi Keith, a 48-year-old homemaker from Savannah, said she believes abortions should be allowed in certain circumstances. “It should always be a woman’s choice, but there have to be some circumstances involved,” she said. “If it’s molestation or rape or something like that, I think it’s more (acceptable) than just someone that just had a one-night-stand and gets pregnant.” Amy O’Sullivan, a 58-year-old Milton resident, said it’s not the government’s job to limit access to abortion. “I don’t think it’s right to turn around and tell somebody what they can and can’t do with their own body when it comes abortion,” she said. The poll of 774 registered voters was conducted March 24 to Monday by the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs Survey Research Center. The margin of error is 3.5 percentage points. The AJC polled voters across Georgia about their thoughts on abortion, including the recently passed House Bill 481, which would ban most abortions when a doctor can detect a “heartbeat” — usually about six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women even realize they are pregnant. Current Georgia law allows abortions to be performed until 20 weeks. What is a heartbeat is at the center of dispute. Supporters say it should be used to establish when life begins. Doctors who oppose the legislation, however, said what appears to be a heartbeat at six weeks signals the practice motions of developing tissues that could not on their own power a fetus without the mother. O’Sullivan, who said she has raised three chronically ill children, said when she was pregnant the third time, the doctor told her abortion was an option. “I was told to accept he would be sick or terminate my pregnancy with my youngest,” she said. “I looked at my husband and I said, ‘I don’t think I can do it (abort).’ But that was my decision.” There are currently about 20 lawsuits involving abortion — including several “heartbeat” laws — up for consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court that could be used to challenge the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. RELATED>> A first wave of women targets Republicans after Ga. ‘heartbeat’ vote Georgia’s anti-abortion ‘heartbeat bill’ heads to governor’s desk See how Georgia lawmakers voted on anti-abortion ‘heartbeat’ bill A look at abortion bills around the U.S. in 2019 Opponents of Georgia anti-abortion ‘heartbeat’ bill set sights on 2020 Photos: Georgia House debates abortion bill Georgia anti-abortion activists hope the state’s “heartbeat bill” will be the one that overturns the court’s ruling. But poll respondents across nearly all demographics said they don’t believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Nearly 58% of those responding to the AJC poll said they believed abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Almost 38% of respondents said they believed the procedure should be illegal in all or most cases. Nearly 5% declined to answer the question. The only groups polled who said they thought Roe v. Wade should be reversed were those who consider themselves “very conservative” — at almost 70% — and about 56% of those with a family income of less than $25,000 a year. Nearly 50% of Republicans, 83% of independents and 88% of Democrats in Georgia said the decision shouldn’t be overturned. M.V. “Trey” Hood III, a political science professor and director of UGA’s Survey Research Center, said while there has been some national support for limits on abortion, people generally don’t want to outlaw the procedure altogether. “Georgians may be viewing the new law, rightly or wrongly, as placing curbs on the procedure,” he said. A national Gallup poll from July 2018 found that 64% of those surveyed did not want to overturn Roe v. Wade. But Keith, the Savannah homemaker, said she believes the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortions up until a fetus is “viable” — usually around the third trimester — should be reversed. “By that time, it’s no longer a fetus,” said the mother of two. “You can find out the baby’s sex at that point. It’s developed to the point that it’s a baby to me.” How people felt about access to abortion fell along party lines. About 80% of Democrats said they think abortion should be legal in most or all cases compared with about 67% of Republicans who believe the procedure should be banned in most or all cases. Kemp, who made a campaign promise to sign the nation’s most restrictive abortion law, is expected to sign HB 481 sometime this month. The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia has already said it will file a lawsuit challenging the legislation. If it becomes law, Georgia still would allow later abortions in cases of rape, incest, if the life of the mother is in danger or in instances of “medical futility,” when a fetus would not be able to survive after birth. Someone who has become pregnant after an incident of rape or incest would have to file a police report to have the abortion performed. Roopville auto mechanic Ben Sundling, 40, said being a Christian leads him to oppose abortion in general. But if someone who is a victim of rape or incest wanted to get an abortion, he thinks it should be allowed. “There should be some guidelines to when you can get one,” he said. “They shouldn’t just 100% have the option to do an abortion for convenience.” The new law would also allow parents, once a heartbeat is detected, to claim an embryo on their taxes as a dependent and it would be counted toward the state’s population.
  • In a first, Georgia lawmakers set aside money in next year’s $27.5 billion state budget to provide free menstrual pads and tampons to low-income women and girls. Lawmakers allocated $1.5 million in the 2020 budget, which begins July 1, that will go to schools and community centers in low-income areas across the state. House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones negotiated with budget writers to include the money in the spending plan after she moved earlier this year to sideline a proposal to lift the state’s 4 percent tax on menstrual products. Jones, a Milton Republican, said allocating $1 million to the Georgia Department of Education more directly addresses the need of young girls missing school because their family doesn’t have the money to purchase menstrual pads or tampons. State Rep. Kim Schofield, D-Atlanta, said she and other Democrats sought to remove the state’s sales tax on menstrual products to ease the burden of taxing women who struggle to afford basic necessities. “I’m elated that recognition is going to be given to the kids that need it most,” Schofield said. “This is a gap that the state has graciously decided to fill.” A spokeswoman with the Georgia Department of Education said they are working to create a grant program to determine the best way to distribute the money during the next school year. An additional $500,000 will go to the state’s county health departments to provide menstrual products to low-income women. Officials at the Department of Public Health also were working on establishing guidelines for the money to be distributed. While the $1.5 million allocated for menstrual products is one-time money and not guaranteed to be included in future state budgets, both Jones and Schofield said they are hopeful it will become a recurring expenditure. For the past two legislative sessions, Georgia Democratic lawmakers have attempted to remove the tax on period products but efforts have gone nowhere. According to an estimate from the state Department of Audits and Accounts, waiving the tax on menstrual products would decrease state revenue by about $9 million in 2020. The department estimated that women and girls between the ages of 10 and 54 spend about $63 each year on menstrual products. By the end of last year, 10 states had specifically exempted menstrual products from sales taxes. Schofield called the money in the state budget a good first step, but she said she still hopes the state will waive the tax on a product that is a necessity for many women and girls. “Yes, let’s address this basic issue for students so they can have what they need so it doesn’t disrupt learning,” she said. “But for adults, we need to take the tax off, just plain and simple.”
  • Georgia's sheriffs, tax commissioners, superior court clerks and probate court judges are getting a 5% raise of their base salaries. The Georgia General Assembly approved Senate Bill 171 on Tuesday, which calls for county governments to fund the pay increases for these elected officials. The legislation sets salary ranges from $35,576 for officials in counties with less than 6,000 residents to $131,099 for officials in counties with over 500,000 residents. Many officials also receive local supplements on top of their state-mandated base salaries. These officials last received a raise in their base pay in 2006, but their salaries did rise 14% during that time because of cost of living adjustments, said Todd Edwards of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, which opposed the legislation. SB 171 incorporates the cost of living adjustments into base pay figures, then adds the 5% increase to that. “All of this is from county funds,” Edwards said. “They're telling us what to do with county money.” It's unclear how much money the legislation will cost taxpayers statewide because pay rates are set by complicated formulas that vary from county to county.  Some counties already pay their elected officials more than the minimums set in state law, and they won't see a salary increase from SB 171. Those counties include Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett. “These constitutional officers have not had a raise in their base salary in 13 years,” said state Rep. David Knight, a Republican from Griffin who supported the bill. “When you look at it on a per county basis, it's not much money.” The county officials will first receive a 2% raise next fiscal year along with state employees, according to separate legislation approved by the General Assembly. They won't see the remaining 3% of their raises until Jan. 1, 2021, according SB 171.
  • President Donald Trump confirmed Thursday he’s recommended former presidential candidate and ex-WSB Radio talk show host Herman Cain for a position on the Federal Reserve board.  Cain, 73, previously served as chairman of the Kansas City branch of the Federal Reserve before returning to Georgia to attempt a political career that included an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate in 2004.  The Stockbridge businessman was briefly considered a GOP front-runner during the 2012 presidential race before his campaign was rocked by claims of sexual misconduct. Cain dismissed the allegations that he harassed several women while heading the National Restaurant Association and carried on a 13-year extramarital affair with a metro Atlanta woman as “false and unproven,” even as he halted his White House bid because of them in December 2011.  Those issues are likely to reemerge during his Senate confirmation hearing in the prism of the #MeToo movement.  Cain’s appointment to the independent board has been rumored for months. Trump confirmed the news a few hours after Axios first reported it earlier Thursday and said Cain is currently going through a background check ahead of his formal nomination.  'I've recommended Herman Cain. A terrific man, a terrific person. He's a friend of mine,' Trump told reporters in the Oval Office. 'I've told my folks that that's the man and he's doing some pre-checking now and I would imagine he'd be in great shape.' Members of the Fed’s seven-person board of governors serve for 14-year terms and help oversee the nation’s monetary policy. Cain has at least one prominent Georgia supporter: David Perdue. The first-term Republican and Senate Banking Committee member told the Washington Post that Cain would be a “great addition” to the Fed board.  “He's a business guy, he's got a great background for it,” said Perdue, whose inaugural Senate bid was boosted by Cain back in 2014. “I know him personally, I think personally he'd be a great addition.' The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO could also face some resistance within the Senate GOP. Earlier Thursday, Mitt Romney brushed off the possibility that Trump would tap Cain for the position.  “I doubt that will be a nomination. But if it were a nomination, you can bet (what) the interest rates he would be pushing for,” said Romney, who ultimately beat out Cain and others for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012. He told Politico: “If Herman Cain were on the Fed, you’d know the interest rate would soon be 9-9-9.”  The Morehouse College alum’s 9-9-9 tax proposal helped briefly vault him to the top of the GOP presidential pack in 2011. The plan calls for a flat 9 percent income tax, business tax and national sales tax, with some exemptions for the poor and businesses that operate in low-income areas. He’s also pushed for a return to the gold standard.  Cain will become the second pending Trump nominee for the Fed board. The president’s other pick, Stephen Moore, has weathered a stream of rocky headlines about owing back taxes and alimony payments, as well as his qualifications for the position.  Both Cain and Moore are deeply conservative and have been critical of some of the central bank’s policies.  Trump has recently ratcheted up criticism of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell for steadily hiking interest rates last year.   The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB are both owned by Cox Media Group. Cain ended his radio program on News 95.5 and AM 750 WSB last summer and went on to co-found a pro-Trump super PAC.  The Associated Press contributed to this article.  Read more: 5 things to know about Herman Cain
  • The end of the legislative session triggers the start Wednesday of another 40-day period — this time for Gov. Brian Kemp to sign measures into law or veto them. Over the next few weeks, the Republican will set a tone for how he will handle some of the state’s most contentious debates, including an overhaul of election policy, an expansion of medical marijuana programs and what would be one of the nation’s toughest abortion restrictions. His immediate predecessor, Gov. Nathan Deal, was never shy about using the red pen: He nixed dozens of measures over eight years, including a “religious liberty” bill and legislation that would allow gun owners to legally carry firearms on most parts of college campuses. Live: Use AJC tracker to follow Georgia bills Photos: Sine Die at the Georgia legislature Kemp has until May 12 to decide whether to issue vetoes or allow bills to become law, but he has already staked a position on many of the highest-profile measures that cleared the General Assembly. But each piece of legislation must first go through an extensive legal vetting that could jeopardize legislation that may otherwise have broad support. “I’ve always tried to be a governor who lets people know when we have issues early, so we’re not in a position to veto bills,” Kemp told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “There may be things we didn’t realize there’s an unintended consequence, but I’ve been pretty consistent in letting legislators know where we are.” Here’s a rundown of where the biggest bills stand:  Abortion In a series of votes packed with drama and tension, Georgia lawmakers narrowly adopted House Bill 481, which would outlaw most abortions from the moment a doctor can detect a heartbeat in an embryo – as early as six weeks. The measure passed over the objections of a broad coalition that included influential medical groups, Hollywood celebrities and a small band of suburban Republicans. Supporters promised it would preserve the sanctity of life — if it first survives a legal challenge. Will Kemp sign it? Certainly. The governor pledged on the campaign trail to sign the nation’s toughest abortion restrictions, and he told the AJC this measure fits the bill. “I can’t govern because I’m worried about what someone in Hollywood thinks about me,” Kemp said. Budget State lawmakers approved a record $27.5 billion budget for the next fiscal year that includes $3,000 pay raises for public school teachers and 2 percent hikes for tens of thousands of state workers. It would be one of the largest teacher pay raises in state history, and increases have been small or nonexistent for many years since the Great Recession crippled the state’s budget in the late 2000s. It passed with broad bipartisan support. Will Kemp sign it? Yes. He’s called the spending agreement a “balanced, conservative budget” that reflects the state’s values and funds priorities. Certificate of need After a decade of debate, lawmakers approved legislation designed to free up some competition for hospitals and ease state certificate of need restrictions. The compromise over House Bill 186 would allow the Cancer Treatment Centers of America to expand, while also protecting hospitals from the threat of a new wave of outpatient surgery centers they fear would gut their bottom line. But they don’t go far enough for critics of the regulations, who say they are an obstacle to free-market competition. Will Kemp sign it? It seems likely. After negotiations stalled, Kemp threatened to take “executive action” if the General Assembly failed to pass legislation. Elections law Legislation to replace Georgia’s electronic voting machines with a touchscreen system that spits out paper ballots was approved after a polarizing debate over how to protect the integrity of the vote while ensuring accurate election results. House Bill 316 also would rewrite election laws dealing with voter registration cancellations, recounts and precinct closures that surfaced during the 2018 governor’s race between Kemp and Stacey Abrams. She and other Democrats fought the legislation, saying it would leave Georgia’s elections vulnerable to hacking and doesn’t include meaningful changes to encourage more voter participation. Will Kemp sign it? Yes. As secretary of state, Kemp created a panel that recommended that the state move to these types of ballot-marking devices. He said the measure “ensures our elections remain secure, accessible and fair.” Medical marijuana Georgia lawmakers struck a deal hours before the legislative session ended to allow medical marijuana patients to buy the cannabis oil they’re already legally allowed to use. The compromise on House Bill 324 would for the first time legalize the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana through small growers, state universities and licensed sellers. Will Kemp sign it? Likely. The governor helped broker the deal between House and Senate leaders who struggled to strike a balance between providing access to legitimate patients while preventing illegal marijuana distribution. But he still seemed torn over it. “It’s a very, very tough issue. But there’s a lot of legislative support for it. I respect the legislative process, and I understand why people are doing it, and I understand why people have grave concerns about this,” he said in an interview. “I have all of those feelings. It’s a really tough spot.” Health care waivers Shortly after he was sworn into office, Kemp sought to regain broad powers to allow his administration to pursue two separate waivers with the federal government that could set a path toward limited Medicaid expansion and create new funds to stabilize private insurance premiums. The proposal sets a limited timeline for him to fulfill the plan — and bans pursuit of a full Medicaid expansion, which he opposes in any case. Still, it would allow Kemp’s office discretion to seek vast changes that could reshape how hundreds of thousands of Georgians get health care coverage. Will Kemp sign it? He did so last month, promising “this process will remain transparent” as his administration negotiates changes with the federal government that are no sure thing, despite Kemp’s alliance with President Donald Trump. Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at www.ajc.com/politics.
  • With the clock ticking down on the 2019 session, Georgia lawmakers on Tuesday night passed a measure giving medical marijuana patients a way to buy the drug legally in the state. The clock ran out, however, on legislation giving airlines a jet fuel tax break, creating new rural transit options and allowing the state to take over Atlanta’s airport. Lawmakers often wait until the waning hours, and even minutes of the session, to pass major legislation. Tuesday, the 40th day of the 2019 session, was no different. Some of this session’s big issues were already out of the way before Tuesday. The $27.5 billion budget with a $3,000 teacher pay raise for the upcoming fiscal year won passage last week. Legislation that would outlaw most abortions gained approval Friday. A new, $150 million voting system got legislators’ OK earlier in the session. But with a few hours left Tuesday night, many issues were still up in the air until the end. Gov. Brian Kemp, a former state senator, played a key role in trying to get lawmakers to reach agreement on several bills. In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kemp called it a “historic” legislative session. “We’ve done a lot this session — a lot more than people thought I’d do,” he said. “I’m just doing what I told people I would do. And that’s what I heard from people during the campaign — they were starving for people to do what they told them they would actually do.” House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said: “We’ve had a good session. We have accomplished things that matter a lot to a lot of Georgians.” Lawmakers reached a deal late Tuesday to allow medical marijuana patients to buy the drug that they’re already allowed to use. Kemp helped broker the agreement between House and Senate leaders who had struggled to strike a balance between providing access to legitimate patients while preventing illegal marijuana distribution. Georgia legalized medical marijuana consumption in 2015 for patients suffering from severe seizures, deadly cancers and other illnesses, but the government didn’t provide any way for them to buy it. Patients obtained the drug illegally through the mail, by driving out of state or through friends. The compromise on House Bill 324 provides several ways for Georgia’s 8,400 registered patients to buy medical marijuana oil, including through six private growing companies, state universities and pharmacies. It’s unclear how many dispensaries would be allowed to sell medical marijuana oil. That would be determined by a state oversight commission. Smoking or eating marijuana would remain prohibited. “Over the years, I’ve met with children who are battling chronic, debilitating diseases. I’ve heard from parents who are struggling with access and losing hope,” Kemp said. “This compromise legislation is carefully crafted to provide access to medical cannabis oil to those in need. This is simply the right thing to do.” Earlier in the day, the Georgia House took a last-ditch shot at winning approval for a tax break on jet fuel for air carriers such as Delta Air Lines and a rural transit bill. They tried this time to pass the measures without a proposal to set up an oversight committee for Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. But it never got a vote in the Georgia Senate. The House had tacked the state jet-fuel tax break — which was backed by Kemp — and the rural transit bill, including a 50-cents-per-ride tax on ride-share services, onto Senate Bill 200. SB 200 was originally legislation to require the Department of Transportation to set up procedures to appeal rejected bids for contracts. Last week, the House passed a similar jet-fuel and rural transit bill, except it included a state oversight committee for the airport. The House measure was written in reaction to a Senate bill seeking a state takeover of Hartsfield-Jackson. City of Atlanta officials opposed both bills. SB 200 included a measure the House also passed earlier this year to suspend state jet-fuel taxes on airlines such as Delta for 20 years. The suspension would save airlines $40 million to $45 million a year. Most of the savings would have gone to Delta. That proposal included a small excise tax that would raise $3.5 million to $4 million a year and would have been used as matching money to attract more federal funding. That money, in turn, would have been used for projects at small airports, such as runway resurfacing. State Rep. David Knight, R-Griffin, who had been fighting for more money for small-town airports, said the newest House version didn’t do enough for rural airports. “This is not a win-win for everyone around the state,” Knight said. Knight noted that Delta and other airlines already got a $25 million annual tax break last year when then-Gov. Nathan Deal had the Department of Revenue stop collecting local sales taxes on jet fuel. Advocates for small-town airports say they are important for economic development and particularly for recruiting businesses. SB 200 also included the rural transit bill the House passed on its own earlier this year. It would have established programs to aid unemployed residents who need transportation to find jobs. Fee money from ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft would have gone toward supporting rural transit. Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.
  • In the midst of an opioid epidemic, the Georgia Legislature has voted to weaken enforcement of one of the investigative tools used against it. On Tuesday the General Assembly voted to take away the ability of the Georgia Composite Medical Board to discipline doctors who fail to register for an opioid prescription tracking database. “It weakens the (monitoring) and our fight against the opioid epidemic,” said state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, who voted against the measure. “This is a major change to something we worked on for years.” Live: Use AJC tracker to follow Georgia bills Photos: Sine Die at the Georgia legislature Georgia’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program was established to assist medical investigators in understanding who might be overprescribing opioids. It was part of “pill mill” legislation the state passed to try to get a handle on the opioid epidemic. The epidemic is widely understood to have started with prescription drugs and then migrated to street drugs. The monitoring program requires every doctor who has a federal ID number to prescribe opioids to register for Georgia’s database, and when they prescribe, to check it to see whether their patient has been doctor-shopping. Under the law, if they failed to register, they would be disciplined. Doctors have said the database is unwieldy and the program is punitive for doctors who rarely prescribe opioids. Most doctors and physician’s assistants who need to register have done so, but just under 1,000 remain unregistered, officials say. The discipline would go away under a late-breaking change to House Bill 551, passed by the House on Friday and by the Senate on Tuesday, the final day of the 2019 session. Instead, the state Medical Board can still levy fines if the doctor or PA fails to register, but they’ll be called “administrative” fines and the board can’t impose official discipline. That means an infraction won’t be reported to disciplinary databases. Until Dec. 31, the board also would have the ability to erase previous discipline for failure to register. There was a reason: Doctors were getting caught up in the new registration requirement who weren’t operating pill mills but were just new doctors who missed a bureaucratic requirement, or doctors who changed mailing addresses and didn’t receive the notice, or, the amendment’s sponsor concedes, were too “lazy” to see that the documentation was filed. That didn’t mean they weren’t good doctors, said state Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Marietta, R-Marietta, who offered the amendment in the House. Cooper, the chairwoman of the House Health and Human Services Committee, and House Majority Leader Jon Burns, R-Newington, were approached by several doctors and hospitals saying innocent practitioners were being caught in the bureaucracy. The problem, she said, was that the board had no discretion whether to decide a failure to register was intentional or had bad consequences. Instead, she said, good doctors were getting disciplinary records that could cost them insurance networks, fellowships and even jobs. “Georgia has a critical doctor shortage,” Cooper said. “This was not about patient care. It’s about being lazy.” Cooper said several Emory University residents had not registered. Also affected were a pediatrician who rarely prescribes and changed addresses, and others who had received incorrect information about registration requirements. A disciplinary action “could ruin their whole career,” Cooper said. She also said she had been among those that fought for the pill mill legislation, as well as bills to save opioid victims such as the 911 amnesty bill and another bill providing Narcan to emergency responders. She said doctors and nurses who were fueling the epidemic would still be caught. “Nobody’s trying not to discipline them,” she said. “You still can go after them for being a pill mill doctor.” The new language also would gives the board no discretion, removing the possibility of discipline for failing to register even if investigators believe the failure was deliberate. Asked whether she would advocate to give the board that discretion next year, Cooper said she would see whether it was a problem and work to change it if that proves true. It’s unclear whether the Senate understood what it was doing when it agreed to the House amendment. The measure appeared on the final day of the legislative session, amended to a bill on a different subject, the regulation of the herbal supplement kratom. The kratom bill was sponsored in the Senate by a popular and powerful lawmaker, Senate Rules Committee Chairman Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga. As Mullis presented the bill on the floor, Unterman raised the issue with the amendment, and Mullis sounded apologetic but still asked for support. It passed with Unterman as the lone no vote. Mullis said afterward that his issue was the kratom issue, and as to the amendment, “If we need to improve (the legislation) next year, I’ll be happy to do that.” The bill now goes to Gov. Brian Kemp to decide if he will sign it. Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at www.ajc.com/politics.
  • The Georgia General Assembly passed a bill late Tuesday that allows medical marijuana sales, providing a way for patients to buy the drug that they're already allowed to use. The legislation, House Bill 324, licenses private companies and universities to grow medical marijuana. Then pharmacies and possibly dispensaries could sell it to the state's 8,400 registered medical marijuana patients. The bill was in jeopardy until Gov. Brian Kemp helped broker a deal between House and Senate leaders who had struggled to strike a balance between providing access to legitimate patients while preventing illegal marijuana distribution. The measure now goes to Kemp for his signature or veto. The House passed the bill 147-16, and the Senate approved it 34-20. “Over the years, I’ve met with children who are battling chronic, debilitating diseases. I’ve heard from parents who are struggling with access and losing hope,” Kemp said. “This compromise legislation is carefully crafted to provide access to medical cannabis oil to those in need. This is simply the right thing to do.” Georgia legalized medical marijuana consumption in 2015 for patients suffering from severe seizures, deadly cancers and other illnesses, but the government didn't provide any way for them to purchase it. It remains against the law to buy, sell or transport medical marijuana oil. Patients obtained the drug through the mail, by driving out-of-state or from friends. Under the bill, up to six private companies would be licensed to grow and manufacture medical marijuana oil. In addition, two universities could start medical marijuana programs. Pharmacies would initially be able to sell the drug, and a state oversight board would have the authority to allow private dispensaries. Smoking or eating marijuana would remain prohibited. Live: Use AJC tracker to follow Georgia bills Photos: Sine Die at the Georgia legislature “For the last five years, our patients in this state have been traveling out of state. They’ve been breaking federal law,” said state Rep. Micah Gravley, a Republican from Douglasville. “The compromise we have reaches the goal of getting safe access for the citizens in this state.” Opponents of the proposal said they worried it sets up a distribution network that could lead to the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes. “Many people recognize this for what it is. This is the first step toward the commercialization of recreational marijuana,” said Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Bill Cowsert, a Republican from Athens. “This is the step where you open the floodgates and you are creating the infrastructure for this industry.” HB 324 would make Georgia the 34th state to allow some form of marijuana cultivation.

News

  • “Boyz n the Hood” director John Singleton suffered a stroke last week and remains hospitalized, according to his family. >> Read more trending news In a statement released Saturday, Singleton’s family announced that the 51-year-old filmmaker was in a hospital intensive care unit and “under great medical care.” “On Wednesday, April 17th our beloved son/father, John Singleton, suffered a stroke while at the hospital,” the statement reads. “We ask that privacy be given to him and our family at this time and appreciate all of the prayers that have been pouring in from his fans, friends and colleagues.” Author Neil deGrasse Tyson and actor Omar Epps have been among those tweeting wishes Saturday for a quick recovery. Singleton became the first black filmmaker to receive an Oscar nomination when he was cited for his debut feature, “Boyz n the Hood,” which was set in his native Los Angeles and released in 1991. His other films include “Poetic Justice,” which starred Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur, and “Rosewood.” Singleton’s recent projects include the TV series “Snowfall,” a crime drama set in 1980s Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • A former football coach and fitness instructor in Bellingham, Washington, pleaded guilty last month to the November 2017 murder of his wife in Park City, Utah.  >> Read more trending news According to a story posted in March by KSTU in Salt Lake City, Anthony Darnel McClanahan’s guilty plea was part of a plea bargain in which prosecutors agreed to remove a domestic violence designation and an enhanced penalty for the use of a dangerous weapon. Prosecutors also agreed to drop a child kidnapping case against him 30 days after his sentencing, according to KSTU. McClanahan is expected to be sentenced on April 29.  McClanahan’s wife, Keri Colleen McClanahan, was found dead at the Park Regency Resort in Park City on Nov. 2, 2017.  “Nothing will ever bring her back,” Heather Gauf, Keri McClanahan's sister, told The Bellingham Herald. “That’s the unfortunate part of this. We have to continue without her, and her children have to grow up without her. He murdered her in a brutal and savage way.” Police found Anthony McClanahan covered in blood and crawling on his stomach outside early in the morning on Nov. 2, according to charging documents. He lifted himself up just enough to flag down a police officer, and then dropped back down and began convulsing, his arms making a 'snow angel motion,' the officer at the scene told prosecutors. Click here to read more.  Originally from Bakersfield, California, McClanahan played four years with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League in the mid-1990s after a collegiate football career at Washington State University. He was in training camp with the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL in 1994 but never played in a game. McClanahan started 41 sports fitness boot camps in Bellingham in 2009 and hosted youth football camps in Whatcom County from 2012 to 2016, according to The Bellingham Herald.  Keri McClanahan, who went by KC, had been planning to leave her husband but wanted to help him get on his feet first, Gauf said in 2017. The couple had met when he was working as a personal trainer in Bellingham, and he pushed for a fast wedding, Gauf said. 'It worried me a lot,'' she said, but 'he kind of had us fooled.' After the January 2017 wedding, the McClanahans moved to Arizona together and began traveling to volunteer in areas that had been affected by hurricanes. But his jealousy began to emerge and, in September 2017, he got frustrated about a missed donation and punched his wife, Gauf said. He'd sometimes refer to the effects of head injuries he'd suffered during his football career, though Gauf said she doubts they were the root cause of the violence. After the punch, Keri McClanahan returned home to Washington, but her husband continued to contact her even as he left Arizona with his son. Anthony McClanahan ended up in Utah because he has family there and wanted his son to be an extra in a Disney TV production, Gauf said. Keri McClanahan eventually met him in Utah to help with his son, and stayed to help him get back on his feet after his arrest in October 2017, Gauf said. Information from The Associated Press is included in this report. 
  • A Gordon County youth minister who also managed a frozen yogurt shop was sentenced to eight years in prison for trying to solicit sex from a person he presumed was a teenage boy. Zachary Michael Baker, 29, was sentenced Tuesday after pleading guilty to criminal attempt to commit aggravated child molestation, sexual exploitation of a child by use of a computer and obscene internet contact with a child, the Rome News-Tribune reported.  According to the newspaper, Baker thought he was chatting with a 14-year-old named Aidan, but was actually speaking with Floyd County police Capt. Ojilvia Lom when he arranged to meet the teen for oral sex. Authorities began the undercover sting after Baker reportedly posted a Craigslist ad seeking other men to experiment with. The sweetFrog yogurt shop manager was arrested in January after showing up at a location to have sex with the teen. Prosecutors said Baker didn’t initially ask for sex, but slowly “groomed” the teen by building a relationship with him. At one point, Baker asked “Aidan” if his mom could bring him by the yogurt shop so they could see each other and Baker could make sure the teen wasn’t a law enforcement officer, according to the news report. Baker’s attorney sought a reduced sentence since his client didn’t have previous arrests and there wasn’t actually a minor involved, the paper reported. He argued that Baker works two jobs, attended 16 weeks of group therapy and is a part of a men’s support group.The 29-year-old was sentenced to eight years in prison followed by 17 years on probation. Once he’s released, Baker must register as a sex offender. In other news: 
  • A family camping in a remote area of an Australian island was sleeping in its trailer when two dingoes entered and tried to take off with a 14-month-old boy early Friday. >> Read more trending news  The boy suffered puncture wounds to his head and neck after one of the wild dogs tried dragging the boy into some bushes on Fraser Island, which is off the Queensland coast. The parents awoke to the child’s cries fading in the distance as he was being taken away. The father ran outside and fought off several dingoes. “He was apparently grabbed around the back of the neck area and dragged away. So, if it wasn’t for the parents and their quick thinking and fighting off the dingoes, he probably would have had more severe injuries,” Frank Bertoli, a pilot for RACQ Life Flight, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. The boy was flown to a hospital, where he is in stable condition, 9News reported. His parents told 9News he is recovering after undergoing two rounds of surgeries.  This is the third dingo attack on Fraser Island this year. A 9-year-old boy was chased and mauled in February and a 6-year-old boy was bitten on the legs in January, 9News reported. The Associated Press contributed to this report. 
  • A driver was pulled over on the way to a job interview and, instead of getting a citation, he was given a ride by the officer. >> Read more trending news  Ka’Shawn Baldwin, 22, was pulled over for expired plates. He also had an expired driver’s license, according to a social media post by the mayor’s assistant.  Baldwin told Cahokia police Officer Roger Gemoules that he was on his way to a job interview and did not have another way to get there.  'I thought it was over,' Baldwin told CNN. 'The main thing that was running through my mind (was): I'm fixin' to miss the job interview and get the car towed that wasn't even mine.' Rather than write a ticket, Gemoules, a high school resource officer, followed Baldwin as he parked the car at a safe location, and then gave him a ride to the interview, CNN reported.  'He was very respectful when I pulled him over and you could just tell. I could feel that he really was wanting to get to this job interview,' Gemoules told CNN. Baldwin got the job as a package handler at FedEx. He also works at McDonald’s, KSDK reported.  Baldwin told KSDK he will be taking the bus to and from work until he gets his license back.
  • A zookeeper at the Topeka Zoo was injured when a tiger attacked her Saturday morning, officials said. >> Read more trending news  The keeper, whose name hasn’t been released, suffered lacerations and puncture wounds to the back of her head, neck and one arm, Topeka Zoo Director Brendan Wiley said. The keeper was awake and alert when she was taken to the hospital, and is in stable condition, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported. The incident happened around 9:15 a.m. in an outside tiger habitat and involved a 7-year-old male Sumatran tiger named Sanjiv, the Capital-Journal reported. When the keeper entered the space, Sanjiv 'tackled her,' Wiley said. The zoo was open to visitors at the time. 'A few people did see the attack,' city of Topeka spokeswoman Molly Hadfield told ABC News. Other zoo employees were able to lure Sanjiv out of the enclosure with food, Wiley said. If the employees hadn’t done so, 'this could have been a very different outcome,” he said. The zoo was closed for about 45 minutes, but has since reopened, except the tiger exhibit. No action will be taken against the tiger. 'While this incident is very unfortunate, he did what a wild tiger does,' Wiley said. Zoo officials are investigating the incident, Wiley said.