ATLANTA – The
Georgia Supreme Court is loosening restrictions governing certain court proceedings
to adjust to the realities of the coronavirus pandemic.
The court declared
a state judicial emergency March 14, ordering courts throughout Georgia to remain
open to carry out critical functions.
orders issued Tuesday and during the past week amend certain court rules to
allow such things as the use of video conferences and telephone conferences in
certain proceedings that normally require the physical presence of the judge
and the parties to a case. The rules also encourage courts to livestream
proceedings via the internet to give the public access.
of these orders is to enable all our courts to continue conducting essential
court business while protecting citizens, judges, lawyers, and others from
unnecessary exposure to the coronavirus,” Chief Justice Harold Melton said.
court issued five separate orders approving amendments to rules affecting
superior and state courts, probate courts, municipal courts, juvenile courts,
and magistrate courts.
Gov. Brian Kemp is sending more than 100
Georgia National Guard members to oversee operations at assisted-living
facilities and nursing homes in the state where elderly residents have been
infected with coronavirus.
Senior citizens are among the most
vulnerable populations at risk for harmful health effects from COVID-19, the
disease caused by the novel strain of coronavirus that has sparked a global
pandemic. The virus had infected at least 3,817 people and killed 108 in
Georgia as of noon Tuesday.
On Tuesday, 20 National Guard members
were deployed to Pelham Parkway Nursing Home in South Georgia, according to a
news release from the governor’s office. The Pelham facility has reported five
residents tested positive for coronavirus, Kemp’s office said.
The 20 soldiers in Pelham are tasked with
cleaning the facility, auditing its sanitation methods and training staff on
measures aimed at halting the virus’ spread. Clusters of four or five soldiers
will head to other elderly care facilities across the state in the coming
weeks, according to the news release.
In all, 100 National Guard members will
fan out across the state to help prop up nursing homes and assisted living
“The Georgia National Guard stands ready
to assist any long-term care facility in this time of need through staff
training and implementation of infectious disease control measures,” said
Adjutant General Tom Carden. “Our training has prepared us to fight this
virus, and we are eager to lend a hand in this battle.”
Kemp previously had ordered residents in
elderly care facilities to remain sheltered-in-place until noon Monday, April
6. His office, along with the Georgia Health Care Association, also previously
called on the state’s nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to restrict
visitations, eliminate group activities like community dining and routinely screen
both residents and staff for symptoms of the respiratory virus.
“Georgia’s top priority is
increasing health-care capacity to protect vulnerable Georgians, especially
those residing in long-term care facilities,” Kemp said in a statement.
“If we can keep these populations as healthy as possible, we will be able
to conserve precious medical supplies and hospital bed space in the coming days
ATLANTA – Georgia
Power Co. plans to convert coal ash stored at one of its retired power plants
into a component of Portland cement, the Atlanta-based utility announced
beneficial reuse project, a first for Georgia, will be launched later this year
at Plant Mitchell near Albany. About two million tons of stored coal ash at the
site will be removed.
“As part of
our ash pond closure efforts, Georgia Power is always looking for opportunities
to reuse coal ash that are beneficial for our customers and communities,” said
Mark Berry, the utility’s vice president of environmental and natural resources.
“The coal ash beneficial reuse project at Plant Mitchell will save space in
landfills and ultimately serve to help produce a valuable product.”
Coal ash is
the residue left behind after burning coal to fuel power plants. It can contain
a number of toxic chemicals, including lead, selenium and arsenic.
Coal ash was
a controversial topic during this year’s General Assembly session, which was
suspended indefinitely more than two weeks ago because of the coronavirus
Democrats pushed legislation that would require Georgia Power to install
impervious liners under 10 of the utility’s 29 ash ponds. Georgia Power plans
to excavate and remove ash from the other 19 ponds.
Republicans opposed the legislation. Instead, the state House of
Representatives passed three other bills imposing additional regulations on the
disposal of coal ash but stopping short of requiring liners.
Mitchell was retired in 2016 as part of a Georgia Power plan approved by the
state Public Service Commission. At the completion of the ash conversion
project there, the ash pond site will be restored as usable property.
Georgia Power issued an initial request for proposals in January to identify
and pursue other opportunities for the beneficial reuse of coal ash stored at
its power plants across the state. A more detailed RFP is due to be released by
the end of April to qualified bidders.
Georgia Power plans to open a research facility later this year at Plant Bowen
to identify, test and speed the development of beneficial uses for coal ash.
Georgia Power will partner with the Palo Alto, Calif.-based Electric Power
Research Institute on the research center.
State officials are looking to give
testing for coronavirus a big boost in Georgia through collaboration between
the state’s public health lab and universities as the death toll from the
respiratory illness continues to climb.
Testing has lagged in Georgia and across
the U.S. relative to the number of cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the
novel strain of coronavirus that has sparked a global pandemic. As of noon
Tuesday, Georgia had logged 16,181 tests since kicking off lab work earlier in
Nearly 90% of those tests have been
completed by private commercial labs, according to the state Department of
Public Health. State officials and health experts have repeatedly called for more
testing to help keep better track of where and how the highly infectious virus
In a news release, Gov. Brian Kemp’s
office said state health officials working with the University System of
Georgia and Emory University are undertaking a “laboratory surge capacity plan”
to increase coronavirus testing by processing more than 3,000 samples per day.
The extra processing started Tuesday.
The plan involves transferring testing
equipment from university research labs in the state to accredited clinical
labs at Georgia State University, Augusta University, Emory University and the
Georgia Public Health lab. Kemp’s office also stepped in to speed up purchases
of equipment and testing reagents needed for the labs to jump-start the surge
plan over this week.
“We hope this surge capacity plan
will allow federal and state public health officials to gain a more complete
picture of COVID-19’s impact on Georgia and better inform our collective
decisions going forward,” Kemp said in a statement. “We expect this plan will
lead to greater testing capacity and more insight into the number of positive
cases in our state.”
Kemp’s office also said the governor has
authorized a group of top state health officials to “validate new laboratory
methods and implement new solutions and technologies to safeguard our testing
That step was taken to help accredited
labs keep testing as tight availability of supplies like reagents and swabs
from commercial manufacturers and supply chain disruptions continue posing
major hurdles for ramping up coronavirus testing, the governor’s office said.
“This collaboration will not only provide
much-needed capacity now, but it will ensure a robust state infrastructure for
the future,” said Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the state public health commissioner.
More than 3,800 people had tested
positive for coronavirus in Georgia as of noon Tuesday. The virus had killed
Tax collections on sales by third-party
online sellers in Georgia like Google and Amazon take effect Wednesday,
including for ride-hailing companies that were due for an exemption before
coronavirus shuttered the General Assembly.
Collecting sales taxes on big online
retailers could reel in around $100 million annually for the state plus tens of
millions of dollars more for local governments, according to a fiscal analysis.
The extra revenues were billed as a needed boost for the state amid sluggish
tax collections and agency budget cuts.
Lawmakers pushed through a measure in
January to start collecting online sales taxes. Part of the deal involved
passing a separate arrangement for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft,
which favor paying a flat fee of 50 cents per ride instead of the sales tax.
Uber representatives said paying sales
taxes would increase costs for customers and reduce earnings for drivers. The
50-cent fee structure they want was tacked onto a bill to ease income-tax
requirements for Georgia farmers hit hard by Hurricane Michael in 2018. It
cleared the Georgia House March 12 and appeared set for quick passage in the
Then, coronavirus swept across Georgia,
forcing the General Assembly to suspend the legislative session indefinitely.
Hundreds of bills, including the 50-cent fee measure, wait in limbo until the
“There’s probably 30 or 40 bills that we
really need to pass,” said Senate Majority Whip Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega. “And
the rest of them we may have to wait until next year.”
The fee measure for ride-share companies
is one of the bills lawmakers aim to pass when they return to wrap up the
session, said Gooch, who has led the push to pass the fee.
Gooch said he plans to ask Gov. Brian
Kemp to issue an executive order giving ride-share companies an exemption from
the online sales tax, which takes effect April 1. But he did not know what
Kemp’s appetite for that might be.
The complication arose when the House
added a last-minute amendment to the fee measure, House Bill 105, that sought
to make it clear that revenues from the fee would be earmarked for public
transit. Without that amendment, the bill would have gone straight to the
governor when it passed out of the House.
Gooch said lawmakers have no idea when
they will resume this year’s session. That decision is up to Lt. Gov. Geoff
Duncan in the Senate and Speaker David Ralston in the House.
“It’s unfortunate,” Gooch said. “But it’s
just one of those unusual circumstances you can’t do much about until you get
back to Atlanta.”
Meanwhile, the state Department of
Revenue is poised to start collecting the online sales taxes, regardless of any
intent lawmakers have for exempting ride-share companies from the tax and
charging them a fee instead.
“Since legislation that would modify the
tax rate for ride-share companies has not finalized its way through the
legislative process, the provisions of [the collections bill] will apply,” said
Jessica Simmons, deputy commissioner for the revenue department.
Uber may end up offering a refund for
riders charged more per trip with the sales tax until the 50-cent fee is
passed, but for now the focus is on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While sales tax will begin applying to
rides on April 1, we are advocating for a resolution when the legislature
returns with the passage and signing of [fee measure],” said Evangeline George,
a spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based company. “The safety and well-being
of Georgians is rightfully the top priority for the state right now.”