Kemp rolls out new law enforcement grant program

Gov. Brian Kemp

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp is using $100 million in federal COVID-19 relief to help boost
public safety.

Kemp announced a new grant program Thursday that will provide up to $1.5 million to help law enforcement agencies cope with violent crime that has been on the upswing since the pandemic began more than two years ago and offset staffing losses that have
hit police and sheriff’s departments.

“Public safety has always been my top priority, because every Georgian should feel safe in their own communities,” the governor said.

“Over the past several years, we’ve seen an unacceptable increase in violent crime all across the state, fueled by the pandemic and misguided efforts like the ‘Defund the Police’ movement, which demoralized our hardworking law enforcement officers.”

Law enforcement agencies awarded grants through the new program will be able to use the money to augment law staffing, support violent crime reduction or community violence intervention programming, and invest in technology and equipment needed to
combat the rise in gun violence.

Applicants must have an organization or subrecipient to serve as the fiduciary agent and assume overall responsibility for the grant. Eligible applicants include law enforcement agencies, a unit of local government, and state agencies with a public safety mission.

Each applicant also must provide supporting data documenting an increase in violent gun crimes and other community violence that began during the pandemic or was worsened by it.

Applications to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget are due by Sept. 1.

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





Local governments, schools want input on tax abatements

ATLANTA – Local governments and school districts should have a say at court hearings on proposed property tax abatements for development projects that would cost cities, counties and schools tax revenue, a lobbyist for Georgia counties said Thursday.

A bill introduced in the General Assembly last year called for giving local governments and school districts the legal right to participate in hearings on tax abatements but failed to get through either legislative chamber.

Now, a state Senate study committee has begun meeting to consider what changes might be needed to make local development authorities more accountable. Whether to give cities, counties and schools a say over the tax abatements development authorities offer business prospects to create jobs is among the issues the panel is weighing.

“We do value development authorities as an extremely important economic development tool,” Clint Mueller, legislative director for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, told the committee. “[But] we still have to provide services.”

Mueller said tax abatements to lure housing and/or retail projects are of particular concern because they bring children who need to be educated and require communities to beef up public safety. While providing those services requires additional tax dollars, tax abatements force counties to pass along those added costs to existing taxpayers, he said.

“All we want is the ability to make our case to the superior court,” added DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader, who appeared with Mueller at Thursday’s hearing.

Giving local governments and school districts a say at court hearings on tax abatements got some pushback from members of the study committee and from some of those who testified before the panel.

Ed Wall, managing director of the financial services company Piper/Sandler, said most of his development authority clients are reluctant to involve school districts because they’re afraid the schools will reject tax abatements because they don’t want to lose the revenue.

Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, said the current system helps protect the identity of prospective developers averse to premature publicity about their plans, while letting school districts into the discussions could jeopardize a project.

“We don’t need to fix what’s working,” Gooch said.

But Sen. Michael Rhett, D-Marietta, said the Cobb Board of Education was given an opportunity for input before the Development Authority of Cobb County approved an estimated $77 million in tax breaks this week for Lockheed Martin in connection with a series of federal projects it is seeking, and the deal went through with no problems.

Angela Palm, director of policy and legislative services for the Georgia School Boards Association, said there needs to be more transparency surrounding local development authorities to make it easier to track the impact of tax abatements.

“There should be a database where the information is entered in a uniform manner,” she said.

The study committee is due to make recommendations by Dec. 1.

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

New UGA study: Much of rural Georgia lacks nearby access to essential addiction treatment

ATLANTA — Many rural Georgia counties lack easy access to methadone clinics, according to a new study by a University of Georgia (UGA) team. 

Methadone is a “gold standard of opioid addiction treatments,” according to study author and UGA health economist Jayani Jayawardhana.  

Methadone helps people quit addictions to drugs like heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl.  

But there’s a logistical challenge: For the first three months of treatment, patients must report daily to a clinic to get methadone. After that, many patients can take the drug at home. 

Even though methadone is effective at helping people with addictions quit other drugs, it also can be addictive and should be closely supervised at first, said Jayawardhana, an associate professor. 

The study found just one of the five Georgia counties with the highest opioid overdose death rates in 2019 had a methadone clinic within a 15-minute drive. 

All told, the state has only 85 methadone clinics, the team found. Those are mostly around cities like Atlanta and Augusta.

Nearly half of Georgia counties — 71 of 159 — lack a methadone clinic within a 15-minute drive.  

“You can’t expect people to drive an hour or two daily for three months,” Jayawardhana said. “That’s not possible for most.”  

The lack of nearby access to methadone clinics could be one reason many people drop out of treatment, she said. Patients may not have transportation and face difficulties getting rides to distant clinics from rural areas.  

The study suggests using Georgia’s 116 federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) to help Georgians access methadone treatment.  

“If these centers can deliver methadone, you could increase access with minimal cost and training and without having to build new facilities, hire personnel, or buy major equipment,” Jayawardhana said.  

Georgia’s rate of overdose deaths increased by about 37.4% from 2019 to 2020, according to the latest data from the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.  

This is in line with national trends that saw overdose rates soar during the COVID pandemic as fentanyl – an especially dangerous opioid – flooded American streets.  

Georgians seeking help with substance use can call the Georgia Crisis & Access Line at 1-800-715-4225 for help.

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

EV industry future in Georgia looks bright

ATLANTA – Georgia has positioned itself on the ground floor of the electric-vehicle revolution and is poised for further growth as demand for EVs takes off, the state’s economic development chief said Wednesday.

Since 2020, EV manufacturers and their suppliers have invested $13 billion in Georgia while creating more than 18,000 jobs, Pat Wilson told members of a legislative study committee on the “electrification” of transportation at its first meeting.

“That’s a good start, but it’s not enough,” Wilson said. “We are going to be actively recruiting these jobs.”

The joint House-Senate panel will hold a series of meetings across Georgia this summer and fall to look for ways to help move the EV industry forward in the Peach State.

Wilson said Georgia got its foot in the door of the EV industry when SK Battery America opened an EV battery manufacturing plant in Commerce early this year. The plant now has more than 1,800 employees from all over Northeast Georgia but potentially could expand to 6,000, he said.

“These manufacturing jobs are the ones keeping people in our rural communities,” Wilson said.

Close on the heels of SK Battery are two huge EV manufacturing plants being built by Rivian and Hyundai, which expect to employ 7,500 and 8,100 workers respectively, Wilson said.

There’s going to be more than enough demand for EVs in the coming years to occupy those plants and more, said Shannon Peloquin, a partner in the San Francisco office of McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm.

The number of electric vehicles on the highways is expected to skyrocket from 3 million last year to 48 million by 2030, Peloquin told the committee.  More than one-third of U.S. consumers surveyed in June said their next vehicle will be an EV or plug-in hybrid, she said.

Georgia is due to receive $135 million in federal funds from the infrastructure spending bill Congress passed last year to build EV charging stations.

The state Department of Transportation submitted its plan for rolling out a network of charging stations to the Federal Highway Administration this month. The federal agency is due to approve the plan by the end of September.

Details of how that network of charging stations will operate in Georgia – including what types of businesses will run them and how they will determine rates – will be one of the challenges the study committee will take up in subsequent meetings, said state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, one of the committee’s co-chairmen.

Another issue will be figuring out how to finance road and bridge construction in Georgia as EVs begin to dominate the auto market, Gooch said. The motor fuels taxes that currently pay for roads and bridges are expected to take a huge hit as the share of EVs grows.

The panel plans to hold future meetings at the site of the Kia automotive plant in West Point and at the Bluebird school bus manufacturing plant in Fort Valley. It is due to make recommendations to the full General Assembly by Dec. 1.

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

Kemp allocates funds for school health care and COVID learning loss recovery

Kemp allocates funds for school health care and COVID learning loss recovery 
ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp this week announced increased funding to address COVID learning loss and build school-based health centers in Georgia.
On Monday, Kemp said $37.4 million will go to organizations helping Georgia students recover from COVID learning loss.  
On Tuesday, the Republican governor said he is allocating an additional $125 million to pay for school health centers.  
All told, the total is $162.4 million. The funding comes from federal COVID relief funds allocated to the state in 2020 and 2021.  
The funding for Georgia school-based health centers (SBHCs) will be administered by the Department of Education through a grant program, Kemp said.  
School-based health centers can provide a variety of services depending on a community’s need. These include providing primary and behavioral care, treating illnesses, and providing vision and dental services. 
“SBHCs have also been proven to help communities by reducing avoidable or unnecessary emergency room visits, increasing access to quality health-care options, [and] improving school attendance records…,” a statement from the governor’s office said.  
The $37.4 million in education funding will pay for tutoring to help students recover from COVID learning loss and help students with special needs.  
Recipients include the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, the Georgia Department of Education, the Georgia Alliance of YMCAs, the Georgia Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs, and the Georgia Public Library Service.

A spokesman for Democrat Stacey Abrams – who is challenging Kemp for the governorship in November – criticized Kemp’s announcements.

“Brian Kemp already cut nearly $1 billion from public education — and now wants credit for federal investment he repeatedly opposed,” said Alex Floyd, a spokesman for the campaign.
Georgia has a historic budget surplus, in part due to federal COVID relief funds that flowed to the state government and partly due to record economic growth.   
Kemp plans to send $350 in cash assistance to low-income Georgians enrolled in state benefit programs like food assistance and Medicaid, he said last week. That will account for more than $1 billion of the state surplus.  
Kemp also announced he would spend $2 billion of the surplus on tax refunds and homeowner tax rebates if he is reelected in November.

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