Senate Democrats release proposed legislative map

ATLANTA – One week from a special legislative session called to redraw Georgia’s legislative and congressional maps, the Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus released its proposed legislative district map.

The proposal contains 22 districts in which minorities are a majority of residents and a majority of the voting age population, an increase from the 20 such districts that currently exist. 

In a statement, Democrats said the new map more fairly represents the partisan makeup of Georgia’s electorate by establishing 25 districts that will likely elect Democrats, 27 that will likely elect Republicans, and four competitive districts.

Submitted by Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, the proposed map redraws the state’s 56 Senate districts in a way that allows for increased participation by racial minorities, the party said.

“Our map reflects Georgia’s growing diversity, and it is responsive to the will of the people,” Butler said. “We cannot create maps that allow any party to be immune to accountability. We have a sacred responsibility to get this right – to ensure that the only power we are preserving is the power of the people’s vote.” 

Last week, the Georgia House and Senate Democratic caucuses Thursday released their own proposed congressional map. That map, which proposes more of a 50-50 split between GOP- and Democratic-leaning districts, follows a GOP-proposed map released in late September.

With the GOP holding majorities in both the state House and Senate, none of the proposed Democratic maps are likely to get serious consideration.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Ossoff, Warnock continue pushing for Medicaid expansion

Georgia’s two Democratic U.S. senators said Tuesday they are still working to include a massive Medicaid expansion provision in the Senate’s final spending bill. 

“We are united in this push and to doing everything we can to ensure that our constituents who lack health insurance, have access to health care and to close the circle on the Affordable Care Act by ensuring that folks are not suffering or dying, simply because the state government has decided not to expand Medicaid,” said U.S. Jon Ossoff.

Georgia remains among 12 Republican-run states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid, with former Gov. Nathan Deal and current Gov. Brian Kemp citing the program’s costs.   

Kemp prefers a more limited expansion, which the Trump administration approved last year. But the Biden administration has put that plan on hold because of concerns it includes a work requirement for Medicaid recipients.   

Ossoff said both he and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock have spoken to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, several times to secure his support. Manchin and U.S. Sen. Krysten Sinema, D-Arizona, have expressed serious reservations about the size and cost of President Joe Biden’s $3.7 trillion spending and infrastructure plan. 

“Health care is a human right in every state,” Warnock said. “Your ability to access health care ought not to be based on personnel. The Affordable Care Act is the law, and Medicaid saves lives.” 

Georgia Democrats have pushed for Medicaid expansion since then-President Barack Obama steered the Affordable Care Act through a Democratic Congress in 2010 with no Republican votes.   

Ossoff and Warnock declined to comment on whether they would support Biden’s massive infrastructure spending bill if Medicaid expansion was not included in the final version.  

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Walker picks up endorsements from top two GOP U.S. senators

Herschel Walker, the UGA football legend who is running for the Georgia GOP Senate nomination, got two big endorsements from Capitol Hill this week.  

On Monday, Walker was endorsed by U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. Thune, as Senate Whip, is the No. 2 Republican in the Senate.  

Then on Wednesday, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell endorsed Walker’s first-ever political campaign. 

“I am happy to endorse Herschel Walker for U.S. Senate in Georgia,” McConnell said. “Herschel is the only one who can unite the party, defeat Senator Warnock, and help us take back the Senate. I look forward to working with Herschel in Washington to get the job done.”  

McConnell is the sixth U.S. senator to endorse Walker, who has also been endorsed U.S. Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri); Steve Daines (R-Montana); Roger Marshall (R-Kansas), and  Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina).

Walker is seeking the chance to face Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock in November 2022. Georgia is widely seen as a battleground state that could determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate, which is currently deadlocked between Republicans and Democrats in a 50-50 split. 

Walker has already been endorsed by former president Donald Trump, and debuted his campaign at a Trump rally in Perry earlier this year. Walker once played for Trump’s New Jersey Generals in the now-defunct USFL. 

Back in September, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, who is also running for the GOP Senate bid, announced the endorsements of 55 state Republican lawmakers.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

World Series economic impact estimated to be in the millions

ATLANTA – Cobb County can expect an economic windfall of at least $5 million each night that Truist Park hosts the World Series, says an Emory economic and business professor.  

“It could go up to about $10 million per night, but that figure might be on the high side,” said Tom Smith of the Goizueta Business School. “But I think you’re looking at somewhere between $15 million and $30 million if all three of the scheduled games are held.” 

Games three and four of the World Series between the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros are set for Friday and Saturday at Truist Park, with a potential game five set for Sunday. 

On Tuesday night, the Braves took game one in Houston by a final score of 6-2. Game two is set for Wednesday night at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros and Washington Nationals played in the 2019 World Series, which was the last Major League Baseball championship to be held before live, sold-out crowds before the pandemic. In 2019, Destination DC, the official destination marketing organization for Washington, D.C., was estimating an economic impact of $6.5 million with two home games at Nationals Park. 

Smith said the series won’t have as much economic impact on the rest of metro Atlanta other than Cobb County.  

“When you have an event taking place in town and most of the people going to the game live in the area, there’s just a transferring of spending from one activity to another,” Smith said. “Instead of going to Ponce City Market in Midtown, you go to the Battery.” 

The Battery is also holding watch parties for the series when it is played in Houston, which Smith called an amazing opportunity for those businesses.  

“These are days when usually there hasn’t been anything else going on at this time of year,” he said. “It’s going to be insane there. You’re going to have 50,000 to 100,000 people in your backyard for a few days in October.”  

The Cobb Chamber of Commerce doesn’t have a predicted economic impact from the games, but President and CEO Sharon Mason said all of the hotels in the Cumberland Community Improvement District (CID) are sold out.  

In 2018, the chamber commissioned a Georgia Tech economic impact study that showed the Braves bring more than $18 million into the immediate area around the stadium, an area that does not include the CID. 

Of that amount, $14 million goes to Cobb schools, Mason said, and $4 million goes to the local government. 

“In the long run, spending public money on a new stadium brings very little in return to the local community,” Smith said. “Most of the new stadium’s benefits go back to the team leasing the facility. It’s usually a very challenging task to find significant benefits for a community that’s funding the stadium.” 

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation. 

Court ruling upholds Georgia Power plans for coal ash

Georgia Power’s Plant Hammond

ATLANTA – The Georgia Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court decision allowing Georgia Power to collect from customers $525 million in coal ash pond closure costs.

Monday’s ruling came in an appeal filed by the state chapter of the Sierra Club.

Georgia Power has committed to spending nearly $9 billion in the coming decades on a plan to close all 29 of its ash ponds located at 11 coal-burning power plants across the state, a cost estimate that has been revised upward at least twice from the $7.6 billion the Atlanta-based utility proposed during its 2019 rate case.

The state Public Service Commission voted to allow Georgia Power to recover a portion of those costs from ratepayers after lawyers for the utility argued the closure plan complies with federal regulations for ash ponds as well as the more stringent requirements of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD).

“We continue to strongly disagree with any claims to the contrary,” Georgia Power wrote Tuesday in a prepared response to Monday’s ruling.

“Additionally, the issue of cost recovery was thoroughly discussed and evaluated through Georgia’s open and transparent regulatory process with the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC), with the PSC’s decision affirmed by the Superior Court of Fulton County and, with Monday’s decision, by the Court of Appeals of Georgia.”

Coal ash contains contaminants including mercury, cadmium and arsenic that can pollute groundwater and drinking water as well as air.

Georgia Power plans to excavate and remove the ash from 19 ponds and close the other 10 ponds in place.

Thus far, the EPD has held public hearings on closure plans for ash ponds at Plant Hammond near Rome and Plant Bowen near Cartersville. The state agency has yet to act on proposed permits requested by Georgia Power.

Nearly all of those who spoke during the public hearings urged the EPD to reject the permits and require Georgia Power to excavate all of the ponds and remove the ash rather than close them in place. They argued that storing toxic coal ash in unlined pits could lead to contamination of nearby streams and groundwater supplies.

David Rogers, Southeast deputy regional director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, expressed disappointment with the court ruling.

“This decision will raise power bills for communities whose utility costs are already too high,” Rogers said Tuesday. “Georgia Power knowingly stored coal ash unsafely, and should be responsible for paying for that bad decision.”

The EPD’s permitting program for ash ponds due to be closed in place requires post-closure care for 30 years, including ongoing maintenance of the cover and groundwater monitoring. Results from monitoring must be reported at least twice a year and posted on Georgia Power’s website. 

The Republican-controlled General Assembly declined to consider legislation introduced by minority Democrats during this year’s legislative session requiring coal ash to be stored in lined landfills.

A bill tightening monitoring requirements for coal ash made it through the state House of Representatives but died in the Georgia Senate.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.