Kemp signs farm package

ATLANTA – Gov. Brian Kemp signed a package of bills Tuesday aimed at improving agriculture, by far Georgia’s No.-1 industry.

Kemp touted the economic development successes his administration has brought to rural communities throughout the Peach State since taking office in 2019.

“The vast majority of the jobs and the vast majority of the investment that have been created by these great private-sector companies … have been located outside the metro-Atlanta counties, creating opportunities for Georgians to succeed no matter what their zip code,” the governor said during a ceremony in Valdosta.

One of the bills Kemp signed Tuesday is expected to help nurture hemp farming in Georgia, a fast-growing industry.

Senate Bill 494, which passed the General Assembly with strong support, establishes licensing requirements for growing hemp as well as manufacturing and selling low-THC hemp products. It also limits the possession and sale of hemp products to adults at least 21 years of age.

“This bill makes changes to the framework for hemp regulations in Georgia … ensuring products are safe for our consumers,” Kemp said.

Senate Bill 420 prohibits the ownership or acquisition of Georgia farmland by agents of foreign adversaries. The legislation also applies to any type of land located within 10 miles of a military installation.

“We cannot allow foreign adversaries to control something as critical to our survival as our food supply,” Kemp said. “Georgia will do everything in our power to prevent bad actors from threatening our national security.”

The governor also signed several bills not related to agriculture, including legislation named in honor of Austin Walters of Valdosta, who died of a fentanyl overdose in 2021 at the age of 30. Senate Bill 465 makes it a felony to manufacture or sell any substance containing fentanyl that causes a death.

“Austin’s Law will help save the lives of Georgians by fighting back against the criminals that traffic in these deadly substances,” said Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, who presides over the Senate. “Today’s signing of Austin’s Law marks a pivotal moment in our efforts to help end this deadly epidemic.”

Augusta aircraft repair company expanding operations

ATLANTA – A leading provider of business aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul services has begun a $33 million expansion in Augusta that will create 90 new jobs, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Tuesday.

StandardAero currently supports more than 170 jobs in the area, servicing about 425 aircraft and 500 turbine aircraft engines each year.

“The new facility will add over 60% of new space to our existing footprint,” said Chris Bodine, vice president and general manager of StandardAero’s Augusta operation.

“The new facility will allow us to support additional super mid-size to large cabin aircraft for airframe and avionics while also significantly expanding our engine shop to further support many of those aircraft.”

StandardAero will build a new hangar and engine shop adjacent to the Augusta Regional Airport. The expansion will add 80,500 square feet to the company’s footprint in Augusta.

Construction on the expansion is expected to be completed next year. The company will be hiring for roles in administration, management, and operations.

Georgia exported $11.1 billion of aerospace products last year alone, including products sent to Augusta for repair and maintenance before being shipped to international customers, state Commissioner of Economic Development Pat Wilson said.

The state agency’s Global Commerce team worked on the project in partnership with the Augusta Economic Development Authority and Augusta Regional Airport.

Georgia Power completes Plant Vogtle nuclear project

Photo courtesy of Georgia Power

ATLANTA – The second of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle has entered full commercial operation, Georgia Power officials announced Monday.

Unit 4, which went online nine months after the completion of Unit 3 at the plant south of Augusta, can produce enough electricity to power an estimated 500,000 homes and businesses.

“The new Vogtle units are a key piece of our strategy to meet the energy needs of our customers not only tomorrow, but 20 years from now,” said Kim Greene, Georgia Power’s chairman, president and CEO. “I’m so proud of the teams who have worked tirelessly to deliver the first newly constructed nuclear units in the U.S. in more than 30 years.”

The nuclear expansion at Plant Vogtle was a long time in coming. The project originally was due to be completed in 2016 and 2017 but encountered a series of delays that drove up the cost to more than double the $14 billion anticipated when the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) signed off on the work in 2009.

The PSC voted late last year to let Georgia Power pass on to customers almost $7.6 billion of the project’s costs, which will increase the average monthly residential customer’s bill by $8.95.

Representatives of environmental and consumer advocacy groups complained as the costs escalated that Georgia Power and its utility partners in the project – Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power, and Dalton Utilities – should have more aggressively pursued renewable energy as a less costly alternative to nuclear power.

Georgia Power executives countered that nuclear energy is the only zero-emission baseload energy source available today – offering high reliability around the clock. Last year, nuclear energy produced at plants Vogtle and Hatch provided more than 25% of Georgia Power’s electrical generation.

“We have added new nuclear generation to the diverse energy resources that enhance the reliability, resiliency, and affordability of our system as we work to achieve our goal to be net zero (in greenhouse gas emissions) by 2050,” said Chris Womack, chairman, president and CEO of Atlanta-based Southern Co., Georgia Power’s parent company.

“The completion of the Vogtle expansion project signifies the culmination of a remarkable journey filled with dedication, perseverance and a commitment to a cleaner energy future for Georgians,” Oglethorpe Power President & CEO Mike Smith added. “We celebrate not only the completion of this important emission-free resource but also the historic achievement it represents.” 

In addition to the 800 permanent jobs created by the two new reactors, the nuclear expansion at Plant Vogtle employed more than 9,000 construction workers at the peak of the project, including engineers, welders, electricians, pipefitters, and plumbers.

Fulton DA candidate criticizes Willis’ approach in Trump case

Christian Wise Smith

ATLANTA – Former Fulton County prosecutor Christian Wise Smith Sunday vowed to bring “fresh energy and new ideas” to the Fulton district attorney’s office as he challenges Fani Willis for the DA post.

Smith, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for Georgia attorney general two years ago, was the only candidate on the stage Sunday for a candidate debate sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club ahead of the May 21 Democratic primary. Willis declined to participate in the debate and was represented by an empty podium.

Willis is in the national limelight after gaining an indictment last summer charging former President Donald Trump and 18 allies with trying to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over Trump in Georgia four years ago.

Wise Smith said Sunday he would continue to pursue the case if he’s elected district attorney, but he questioned Willis’ approach. He said Willis’ decision to hire an outside lawyer to lead the prosecution took resources away from pursuing other crimes.

“When you pay one attorney $1 million to handle a case, it hurts everyone else in Fulton County,” Wise Smith said. “We have to see (the Trump case) through while addressing everything else affecting Fulton.”

The lawyer Willis hired, Nathan Wade, ended up resigning from the case last month at the urging of Fulton County Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee after Wade and Willis acknowledged they had been involved in a romantic relationship.

Wise Smith also questioned the use Willis has made of Georgia’s broad RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statute to go after criminal conspiracies, not only in the Trump case but in the prosecution of rapper Young Thug and a group of associates on gang-related charges and in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating scandal a few years back.

“RICO was designed for organized crime,” Wise Smith said. “Using it against teachers is an overreach.”

Wise Smith said he wants to use the powers of the district attorney to address overcrowding at the Fulton County Jail by promoting a diversion program.

“We can bring people through the system a lot faster,” he said.

In another judicial candidate debate on Sunday, former U.S. Rep. John Barrow declared he’s running for a seat on the Georgia Supreme Court because incumbent Justice Andrew Pinson has a track record of defending a ban on abortion.

Barrow, a Democrat who represented Georgia’s 12th Congressional District for a decade, said legislation the General Assembly passed in 2019 essentially banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy violates the state’s Constitution.

Barrow said Georgia’s highest court needs more people like him with “real-world experience” outside the courtroom.

“I’ve had 25 years of practice … representing families all over Georgia, working with real people with real problems,” he said. “My opponent brings virtually no experience from the real world.”

Pinson, who was appointed to the state Supreme Court by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2022 after a year on the Georgia Court of Appeals, declined to participate in Sunday’s debate.

GOP congressional hopefuls seek to out-conservative each other

ATLANTA – Five Republicans running for Georgia’s open 3rd Congressional District seat took turns touting their conservative credentials Sunday during a televised debate sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club.

Former state Sens. Mike Crane and Mike Dugan, former state Rep. Philip Singleton, businessman Jim Bennett, and Brian Jack, who served as an aide in the Trump White House, are vying to succeed U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-West Point, who is not seeking reelection.

The winner of the GOP nomination will face one of two Democrats competing for the seat in November in the heavily Republican district in west-central Georgia.

With no substantial differences on issues, the five Republican hopefuls sought to distinguish themselves by their accomplishments.

Jack, who served as political director in the Trump administration and has been endorsed by the former president, said he played a role in securing America’s southern border against illegal immigrants, cutting taxes, and appointing three conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court who helped overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

“I don’t think anybody trusts Joe Biden to secure our border,” Jack said. “We’ve got to build more border wall and support the largest domestic deportation program in our nation’s history.”

Dugan, who served as state Senate majority leader for four years, cited a list of Republican successes in the General Assembly on his watch, including passage of the “heartbeat bill,” essentially a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy and an overhaul of Georgia election laws. He said he wrote the “divisive concepts” bill prohibiting teaching U.S. history in a way that might make any student feel guilty or that they are superior or inferior to anyone else because of their race.

If elected to Congress, Dugan said his first priority would be to push for legislation prohibiting members of Congress from trading stocks.

Crane said the U.S. should close its southern border and criticized the Biden administration for failing to do so.

“We went from a secure border to an invasion within just a few years,” he said.

Singleton said he championed gun-rights legislation while serving in the Georgia House, including a bill allowing Georgians to carry concealed firearms without a permit. He said he also pushed for a ban on “sanctuary cities” that refuse to prosecute illegal immigrants.

Singleton rejected the idea that Congress is so divided it can’t get anything done.

“It’s about building relationships,” he said. “What you want is cooperation, not compromise, You never want to compromise your principles.”

Bennett said that as a businessman, he sees a need for government deregulation. He said he supports legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., requiring Congress to vote on any proposed regulation that would impact America’s economy by more than $100 million.

Bennett also criticized former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., for leaving Congress after being ousted from the speakership last fall.

“People need to stop quitting their jobs and finish the job they started,” Bennett said.

All five candidates raised their hands when asked if they believe Trump was the rightful winner in Georgia in the 2020 election. They also indicated with a unanimous show of hands that they support U.S. aid to help Israel wage its war in Gaza but oppose continued assistance to Ukraine.