ATLANTA – Sagging
state tax revenues are breathing new life into longstanding efforts in the
General Assembly to legalize gambling in Georgia.
But with a
little more than three weeks left before lawmakers convene for the 2020
session, the most passionate legislative backers of bringing casinos and horse
racing to the Peach State haven’t decided whether to add sports betting to the
mix or whether to combine all of the gambling proposals into one package or
tackle them separately.
“I do think
there’s momentum for something to happen this session,” state Sen. Brandon
Beach, R-Alpharetta, said last Thursday after the final meeting of a Senate
study committee he chaired that held several hearings on legalizing gambling in
its various forms. “We need further deliberation.”
committee adopted a 13-page report at its final meeting summarizing the
hearings it held last summer and fall to listen to supporters and opponents of
legalized gambling. But it stopped short of adopting recommendations for the
On the other
side of the Capitol, a special committee the House of Representatives formed to
look for new revenue sources for the state – primarily but not limited to legalized
gambling – also has yet to reach any conclusions.
Beach and Georgia Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, have been prime movers behind efforts to pass a constitutional amendment legalizing gambling in Georgia that go back a half dozen years. Such constitutional changes require a two-thirds majority in the Georgia House and Senate and ratification in a statewide voter referendum.
sponsored legislation calling for several proposed “destination” resorts to be
built across the state, one in metro Atlanta and several others elsewhere in
Georgia. While the projects would feature casinos, they also would include
mixed-use development amenities such as shops, hotels and restaurants.
two specific casinos proposals pitched them to the two legislative committees.
One would be built adjacent to the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, while the
other is the brainchild of Columbus entrepreneur Bob Wright, who wants to build
a casino resort along the Chattahoochee River between Uptown Columbus and Fort
been substantial development along the river,” Wright told members of the House
committee Dec. 11 in Columbus. “Our goal is to continue that development in an
area of Columbus that needs a lot of help. … It really needs an economic
been the main driving force behind legislation to legalize pari-mutuel betting
on horse racing. He has pitched the proposal as a way to generate jobs in rural
Georgia by creating an equine industry that would foster hay and breeding
betting is the newest arrival of the three. It wasn’t an option until May of last
year, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law that
effectively banned commercial sports betting in most states.
professional sports teams – the Braves, Falcons, Hawks and Atlanta United –
have come out publicly in favor of legalizing sports betting as a way to gin up
said some lawmakers are hesitant to take the plunge into sports betting because
it doesn’t promise to generate much economic impact for the state.
betting bill Georgia lawmakers pass likely would be modeled after Tennessee,
which has legalized online betting on sports. Unlike casinos and horse tracks, online
betting doesn’t require construction of any jobs-producing entertainment
create a lot of jobs,” Beach said. “I want to create jobs and industry.”
issue yet to be decided is how to craft legalized gambling legislation. Past
efforts to get casinos and/or horse racing through the General Assembly have
been taken up separately and have failed.
he’d like to see a constitutional amendment that combines all forms of
going to amend the constitution, we ought to look at it holistically rather
than picking and choosing,” he said.
Stephens said House leaders are on board with a combined measure, Beach said senators
have yet to decide.
potential sticking point is deciding how the state would use the tax revenue
legalized gambling would generate.
from the Georgia Lottery go toward the state’s popular HOPE Scholarships and
pre-kindergarten programs. But House Republican leaders are expected to push
for dedicating some of the tax money to health care.
said the Georgia Medicaid program will need an influx of state funding if it is
to pay for the expansion of coverage envisioned in a federal waiver request
lawmakers have authorized Gov. Brian Kemp to pursue.
an expansion, the state’s existing program needs help simply to keep pace with enrollment
growth, Stephens said.
to backfill $200 million to $300 million every year,” he said.
the Senate would prefer to limit the distribution of gambling revenue to
education but would be willing to consider health care as well.
gambling has been getting pushback on two fronts. Representatives of existing entertainment
venues across Georgia argue casino resorts could corner the market on both
performing artists and the audiences they would attract.
“A casino in Savannah or Columbus could affect smaller venues,” said Heather Stanley, managing director of the Rylander Theatre in Americus. “Smaller venues that could get pushed out are economic drivers in their communities.”
for faith-based groups have opposed all forms of legalized gambling as
unhealthy for society.
industry acknowledges there are people who become problem gamblers,” said
Virginia Galloway, regional field director for the Duluth-based Faith and
Freedom Coalition. “As we expand the market, that creates new gamblers. …
They’re not only ruining their lives but the lives of many others around them.”
dismisses the argument that legislative passage of legalized gambling is simply
the General Assembly giving the people the right to vote on the issue. She said
gambling opponents lack the resources to fight deep-pocketed gambling interests
in the advertising battle for votes.
lawmakers have consistently used that argument to justify supporting a gambling
constitutional amendment and passing the decision on to Georgians.
General Assembly stands on legalized gambling should start to become clear
soon. Stephens’ House committee is planning a final meeting early next month
just before the start of the legislative session.
the Senate plans to take a position just after lawmakers arrive under the Gold
week of the session, we’ll know where we’re going,” he said.
ATLANTA – Georgia
energy regulators gave Atlanta Gas Light (AGL) a $65 million rate increase Thursday
while requiring the utility to make a series of improvements to customer
Public Service Commission (PSC) voted unanimously to reduce the $90 million
rate hike AGL requested last June. Commissioners also trimmed the profit margin
AGL had proposed from 10.75% to 10.25%.
with what was accomplished today,” said Commissioner Chuck Eaton, chairman of
the PSC’s Energy Committee, who crafted the motion the commission approved. “It
balances increased federal regulations, the capital investment required from a
growing Georgia economy and ensures the company will make needed service
improvements that customers will notice.”
rate increase since 2010 will raise the typical residential customer’s monthly
bill by 4%, or $2.54, starting next month.
officials said they need the money to cover $744 million in investments the
utility is making to replace old pipelines, add new transmission lines and
undertake an unprecedented expansion into rural parts of Georgia.
increases have been driven by aggressive investment in our distribution
system,” Robert Highsmith, a lawyer representing AGL, told members of the
Energy Committee earlier this week. “Our system is stronger, safer, more
reliable and poised for growth.”
mindful of the impact any increase can have on customers with low or fixed
incomes,” AGL President Bryan Batson added. “Fortunately, thanks to today’s
lower natural gas prices, consumers are still paying on average $250 less on
their total natural gas bill than even 10 years ago.”
motion will require AGL to respond to gas leaks in 25 minutes or fewer, increase
the percentage of appointments provided within a four-hour window from 40% to
80% and increase by 25% “evening” appointments, which occur between 4 p.m. and
among service improvements recommended by the gas marketing companies that pay
fees to AGL to provide and maintain gas pipelines and other infrastructure.
Tricia Pridemore said she voted for the rate increase because of AGL’s
agreement to improve service. But she criticized marketers for not fighting
hard enough for even more service improvements while admonishing AGL’s
presentation of its case for higher rates.
gotten $15 million more than you should,” she said. “Your rate case proposal
was weak and lacked detail. … Your next effort needs much improvement.”
ATLANTA – Georgia’s
unemployment rate fell to 3.3% last month, the lowest since the federal
government began keeping records in 1976.
State also set a jobs record in November – 4.64 million jobs – while the number
of employed Georgians also hit an all-time high of 4.96 million.
recall us ever having a better month,” Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark
Butler said. “It’s nice to see this at the end of the year. I think we are
going to continue to see Georgia move in the right direction.”
Kemp said the strong numbers are a sign the conservative agenda he and his
Republican allies in the General Assembly have embraced is working.
Georgia the best place to live, work and raise a family, we must support our
small businesses, recruit projects of regional significance to our rural
communities and dismantle criminal street gangs so our families are safe from harm,”
added 6,500 jobs last month, up 69,000 from November of last year.
sectors added the most jobs, led by trade/transportation/utilities with 3,200
jobs. Education/health services was close behind with 3,100 jobs added. The construction
sector added 2,300 jobs.
seen the labor force start growing again, but it’s still not where I want it to
be,” Butler said. “We need more individuals in the workforce to take all the
jobs we have open.”
November unemployment rate was slightly below the nation’s, which fell 0.1% to
ATLANTA – Georgia
Attorney General Chris Carr is praising a federal appellate court decision tossing
out a key provision in the Affordable Care Act.
Orleans-based Fifth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals Wednesday ruled
unconstitutional the so-called “individuate mandate” requiring most Americans
to have health insurance coverage or pay a penalty.
In 2012, the
U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld the individual mandate congressional
Democrats had adopted two years earlier by classifying the penalty requirement for
those who don’t comply as a form of taxation. However, two members of the
three-judge appellate panel declared the mandate no longer can be considered a
tax because the now-Republican Congress has since abolished the penalty.
among more than a dozen states led by Republican governors that have sued in
federal court to block what is commonly referred to as Obamacare.
the courts have agreed with what we already knew – the cornerstone of Obamacare
is unconstitutional,” Carr said following the ruling. “Now, we need to get back
to work and do it the right way. Congress, the states and the private sector
must seize this great opportunity to fix the mess created by Obamacare and do
right by the American people.”
Donald Trump has led efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act but has been unable
to get the measure through Congress.
court challenge is not over. While ruling against the individual mandate, the
appellate sent the overall case back to a lower court to decide whether to
uphold the law’s other provisions.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who heads a coalition of states that support
the law, is vowing to appeal the New Orleans ruling to the Supreme Court.
ATLANTA – A federal judge is letting Georgia Secretary of
State Brad Raffensperger move forward with a plan to purge 309,000 voters
listed inactive from the state’s rolls.
But an emergency ruling U.S. District Judge Steve Jones
issued on Monday leaves the door open for restoring at least some of those
Georgians’ voting rights following a court hearing set for Thursday.
Fair Fight Action, a voting rights organization launched by
2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams following her narrow loss
to Republican Brian Kemp filed a lawsuit to block the state’s “use-it-or-lose
it” legal stance on purging the voter rolls.
“Georgians should not lose their right to vote simply because
they have not expressed that right in recent elections,” said Lauren
Groh-Wargo, CEO of Fair Fight Action. “Georgia’s practice of removing voters
who have declined to participate in recent elections violates the United States
The case involves 120,000 Georgians who haven’t voted since
2012 and have not responded to letters from the secretary of state’s office and
189,000 others who have moved away from addresses the state has on file.
Georgia Democrats have long complained about voter purges
instigated by Republican secretaries of state. More than 500,000 voters were
taken off the rolls during the summer of 2017 in the largest voter purge in
“Proper list maintenance is not only required by longstanding
laws but is also important to maintaining the integrity and smooth functioning
of elections,” Raffensperger said following Jones’ ruling. “Georgia has
registered nearly a half-million voters since the last election, clear proof
that we are doing things to make it easy for people to vote.”
Fair Fight Action also charges Raffensperger with violating an
elections law Republican legislative leaders pushed through the General
Assembly last March, which lengthens the time voters can go without casting a
ballot before being removed from the rolls from three years to five. The
comprehensive measure also provides for the state’s switch to new touch-screen voting
machines equipped with a paper backup.
While Fair Fight Action argued the new law should be applied
retroactively to inactive voters, a lawyer for the secretary of state’s office
said that was not the state’s intention.