New coalition takes aim at tort reform in Georgia

ATLANTA – A new nonprofit founded by three high-power lobbying firms is setting its sites on tort reform in Georgia.

Competitive Georgia announced its formation Tuesday, the latest sign that business leaders are preparing a major push for the General Assembly to curb what they see as frivolous lawsuits that drive up the cost of doing business.

The coalition is being led by Atlanta-based Troutman Pepper Strategies, Cornerstone Government Affairs, and Robbins Government Relations, also headquartered in Atlanta. Ben Tarbutton III, president of Sandersville Railroad Co., and Mitch Stephens, chairman and CEO of Atlanta-based commercial construction and real estate firm Mitchell Stephens Co., will serve as co-chairs of the organization.

“Frivolous lawsuits caused by Georgia’s legal environment have cost businesses – large and small – millions of dollars,” Tarbutton and Stephens wrote in a joint statement. “We look forward to working with Competitive Georgia and our elected leaders to make Georgia’s legal system fair and equitable for all parties so we can keep our state growing and on track for decades to come.”

Georgia Republicans have long embraced the cause of tort reform. The General Assembly passed legislation in 2005 – the first year the GOP was in full control of the legislature – setting a $350,000 cap on non-economic damages in lawsuits.

But the state Supreme Court overturned the law in 2010. Since then, efforts to pass significant tort reform have faltered amid opposition from legislative Democrats and the trial lawyers lobby, which have argued tort reform takes away the rights of victims of car crashes and medical malpractice to their day in court.

Gov. Brian Kemp told an audience of political and business leaders earlier this month he will push for tort reform legislation during the 2024 session of the General Assembly starting in January.

“Georgia companies, health-care providers and others have seen the cost of doing business rise substantially over the past decade due to runaway nuclear verdicts,” state Senate Majority Leader Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, said Tuesday. “We cannot let Georgia lose its status as the best state for business because of skyrocketing prices on goods and services, and insurance premiums reaching all-time highs.”

Kemp declares state of emergency with Idalia bearing down on Georgia

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency Tuesday for all of Georgia in anticipation of Wednesday’s arrival of Hurricane Idalia.

The storm system is expected to make landfall along Florida’s Big Bend area Wednesday morning as a Category 3 or Category 4 hurricane, then move through Georgia Wednesday afternoon and evening as a Category 1 hurricane.

The track forecast has shifted slightly west since Monday night, with the brunt of the storm’s impact in Georgia expected in the south-central and southeastern portions of the state.

As a result, a hurricane warning has been posted in Brooks, Lowndes, Lanier, Echols, Clinch, Ware, and Charlton counties. A hurricane watch is in effect in Pierce and Brantley counties. Much of the rest of Southeast and South-Central Georgia is under a tropical storm warning.

“We are taking every precaution ahead of Hurricane Idalia’s landfall tomorrow, and I am taking this additional executive action to ensure state assets are ready to respond,” Kemp said Tuesday. “Georgians in the expected impact area can and should take necessary steps to ensure their safety and that of their families. We are well positioned to respond to whatever Idalia may bring.”

Areas of Georgia under a hurricane warning could see winds of up to 80 miles per hour, with winds of up to 50 miles per hour likely in other areas affected by the storm. Falling trees and powerlines could cause widespread power outages and threats to safety in and around areas where a hurricane warning has been posted.

Rainfall amounts of four to six inches will be common across Southeastern Georgia, with some areas receiving up to eight inches. Because the storm is expected to move through the state quickly and due to recent below-average rainfall, widespread flash flooding is not likely, although isolated flash flooding is possible.

There is also the risk of a few tornadoes in Southeast Georgia on Wednesday, while storm surges of two to three feet are possible along the Georgia coast.

Kemp activated the State Operations Center on Monday, ensuring all relevant local, state, and federal agencies are closely coordinating on storm preparations and response. The state of emergency is due to expire on Sept. 8 at 11:59 p.m.

Korean automotive supplier coming to West Point

Gov. Brian Kemp

ATLANTA – A Korean automotive supplier will build a manufacturing facility in West Point to serve the nearby Kia plant and other automakers, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Tuesday.

Daesol Ausys will invest $72 million in the project and create more than 140 jobs.

“West Point has become an automotive capital in its own right, and we are excited that Daesol Ausys will join other innovators in Harris County,” Kemp said. “Our state’s automotive industry employs over 50,000 hardworking Georgians and will continue to grow as e-mobility suppliers choose all corners of the state for the jobs of the future.”

Daesol Ausys, established in 2017, specializes in designing and manufacturing electric vehicle motor and interior components and accessories. It serves as a key supplier for Kia Georgia, Hyundai Motor Group – which is building a huge EV manufacturing plant west of Savannah – and General Motors.

The new Daesol Ausys plant will produce luggage boards and luggage covers, with operations due to begin late next year.

“We’re committed to delivering world-class services that exceed our clients’ requirements and expectations,” said Min Ho Kwon, the company’s CEO. “We are very excited about this project in the Northwest Harris Business Park and look forward to continuing the partnership with the state of Georgia and Harris County.”

The state Department of Economic Development’s Global Commerce team worked on the project in partnership with the Harris County Commission, Harris County Development Authority, city of West Point, Georgia Power, and the Technical College System of Georgia’s Quick Start program.

New anti-Trump ads target former president’s indictments

ATLANTA – An anti-Donald Trump Republican political action committee has launched a six-figure ad campaign following Trump’s indictment in Fulton County on racketeering charges.

The 60-second TV ad, sponsored by the Republican Accountability Project, will run this week on Fox News and in the Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Phoenix markets, all with the heaviest concentrations of voters in the swing states of Georgia, Wisconsin, and Arizona.

The ad, entitled “Trump Rap Sheet,” shows footage depicting Trump’s alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results, falsify business documents to cover up hush money payments to an ex-porn actress, and illegally retain classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

It features the mugshot taken of Trump at the Fulton County Jail last week in the same frame with the words “91 felonies,” the number of charges lodged against the former president in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Georgia.

“In America, the rule of law still matters,” the narrator says in the ad. “No one is above the law.”

The campaign also features a billboard in Midtown Manhattan’s Times Square listing the 91 felony charges next to Trump’s mugshot.

While Trump faces a series of upcoming criminal trials, he continues to hold a huge lead in the race for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Georgia CON law criticized at legislative hearing

ATLANTA – Georgia’s certificate of need (CON) law governing the health-care industry reduces access to medical care and drives up costs by stifling competition, physicians, industry executives, and political leaders from South Georgia said Monday.

A case in point is an effort to build a second acute-care hospital in Lee County near Albany that has taken six years and run up a $6 million to $8 million legal bill without producing a completed project.

“That’s a real-life story of how hard it is to build a hospital in the state of Georgia,” Lee County Commission Chairman Billy Mathis told members of a state Senate study committee considering whether to reform or even repeal the state’s CON law. “The CON law is almost an insurmountable obstacle.”

Georgia’s CON law requires applicants wishing to build a new medical facility or provide a new health-care service to demonstrate to the state Department of Community Health that the facility or service is needed in that community.

The General Assembly passed the law in 1979 to comply with a federal mandate aimed at reducing health-care costs by avoiding duplication. However, Congress repealed the federal law in 1986, leaving states to decide whether to enforce CON. By 1990, 11 states – including California and Texas – had done away with their CON laws.

The proposed Lee Medical Center received a CON from the state back in 2017 but was immediately tied up for two to three years by lawsuits from parties objecting to the planned hospital, Mathis said Monday. After spending $6 million to $8 million, the project’s backers eventually prevailed in those cases only to be stopped in their tracks for two years by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

With COVID mostly in the rearview mirror, the local development authority prepared to issue bonds to finance the project but was stopped by turmoil in the bond market that prompted the county to seek several six-month extensions of the CON, Mathis said.

Earlier this year, the DCH denied the latest extension requested by Lee County, essentially pulling the plug on the project.

“DCH pulled our CON right at the finish line,” Mathis said. “We were ready to issue bonds.”

The General Assembly has reformed the CON law over the years. In 2008, lawmakers exempted physician-owned ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) with a single specialty from having to obtain a CON.

But Dr. Shane Darrah, founder of Southeastern Cardiology Associates in Columbus, testified Monday that the CON exemption for single-specialty centers does not apply to cardiac procedures, which can be performed only in hospitals.

“When cardiology was in its infancy, that made sense,” he said. “But these procedures have evolved. … It’s safe to do these procedures in an ASC.”

Darrah said surgical procedures can be performed at less cost in ASCs compared to hospitals, which makes them more available.

“If we improve costs, we’re going to improve access,” he said.

While Darrah called for an amendment to CON to exempt cardiology centers, others called for a total repeal of the law.

“Health care should be in the hands of the ones delivering it,” said Mark Baker, CEO of the Hughston Clinic in Columbus, which hosted Monday’s study committee meeting. “The CON process totally stifles your ability to be nimble and react to the market.”

Efforts to get rid of Georgia’s CON law have run into opposition from the state’s powerful hospital lobby. Hospital executives and their allies in the legislature have argued that ASCs siphon off paying patients from hospitals because they don’t have to provide the same full range of medical services, including such “loss leaders” as emergency rooms and ob-gyn services.

Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, a member of the study committee, said Monday that for-profit ASCs also aren’t likely to set up shop in rural communities most in need of health-care access because they can’t make as much money as they could in wealthier urban and suburban areas.

“You are business people,” Sims told Monday’s witnesses. “You’re going to look at your bottom lines.”

But Baker said Hughston Clinic has served patients in all of Georgia’s 159 counties. He called the argument that for-profit ASCs cherry-pick their patients a “dead animal.”

Mathis endorsed Senate Bill 99, introduced during this year’s legislative session, which calls for exempting most rural hospitals from the CON law. The Republican-sponsored bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support but died in the state House of Representatives. It remains alive for consideration during the 2024 General Assembly session starting in January.