Georgia entering vacation season short of game wardens

ATLANTA – With the traditional summer vacation season getting underway, Georgia continues to suffer from a chronic shortage of game wardens to serve its 2 million hunters and 600,000 to 700,000 anglers.

The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) boasted 250 game wardens back in 2000. But a series of budget cuts had dropped that workforce as low as 181 in fiscal 2017 before it rebounded to 234 in the fiscal 2025 budget that takes effect July 1.

“We’re still not up to where we were 24 years ago,” said Col. Mike England, director of the DNR’s Law Enforcement Division. “How many people are in Georgia in 2000, and how many do we have now?”

The DNR isn’t alone when it comes to workforce shortages. The $36.1 billion state budget the General Assembly adopted in March includes $3,000 pay raises for workers in state agencies suffering high turnover rates on top of the 4% cost-of-living increases most state and university system employees are getting.

While game wardens are among the workforce groups that will qualify for those additional raises, the increases also are going to a wide range of employees including state troopers and child welfare workers.

But England said game wardens face more difficult work schedules than their colleagues, which contributes to high turnover rates.

“We don’t work shifts,” he said. “Game wardens are on call 24 hours a day.”

Because hunters and anglers tend to pursue their hobbies on weekends, game wardens are only off duty one weekend per month, England said.

“Our officers can’t go home and drink a beer because they may be on call,” he said. “They get tired of the schedule.”

Mike Worley, president and CEO of the Georgia Wildlife Federation, said the shortage of game wardens has not affected the agency’s ability to process applications for hunting and fishing licenses in a timely manner.

“Our technology has helped us a lot,” he said. “There is really not a backlog for hunting and fishing licenses. It’s really about the enforcement.”

Worley said the shortage encourages law breakers to engage in such criminal activities as bringing deer into Georgia that might carry disease or smuggling turtles and other reptiles out of the state for sale on the black market.

“When I run into a game warden in the field, I find them very courteous, thoughtful, and respectful,” he said. “(But) how often are you checked by one of these officers? It’s not often. … There are folks who will roll the dice and take their chances because we don’t have enough of them.”

The DNR’s budget for the coming fiscal year includes $577,000 to hire six additional game wardens. England said that won’t do more than put a dent in the workforce shortage.

“All we’re doing is chipping away a little at a time,” he said.

With games wardens working such long hours because they’re spread so thin, England said it has taken a special type of person to stick with the job.

“Our people are very dedicated,” he said. “They love their job. Those who don’t move on.”

Feds putting up $75M for semiconductor chips plant in Georgia

U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff

ATLANTA – The Biden administration Thursday announced it is committing up to $75 million toward a semiconductor component manufacturing plant being built in Covington.

Absolics, a subsidiary of South Korea-based SK Group, broke ground on the facility in 2022. The project will create more than 1,200 manufacturing and construction jobs, said U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., who has made several economic development trips to South Korea since taking office in 2021.

The federal grant will come from the CHIPS and Science Act Congress passed two years ago, part of Biden’s plan to revitalize American manufacturing.

On Thursday, Ossoff described growing a domestic semiconductor industry now dominated by China as crucial to U.S. national security.

“It has been my vision since I took office that Georgia should lead the nation and America should lead the world in the advanced manufacturing of semiconductor chips,” he said. “Chips are in almost everything we use. They’re crucial to major national security technologies … and to our military.”

SK already has a major presence in Georgia. The company operates an electric vehicle battery manufacturing plant in Commerce, and a second facility is under construction in Cartersville.

The 120,000-square-foot plant in Covington will produce glass substrates, which increase the performance of leading-edge chips by enabling smaller, more densely packed connections resulting in faster and more energy-efficient computing.

Paper products company expanding in Macon

ATLANTA – A paper products company that’s been in Macon since 2008 will invest $418 million to expand its local footprint, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Thursday.

First Quality Baby Products’ expansion will create 600 news jobs.

“We’re always thankful when job creators like First Quality choose to expand in Georgia,” Kemp said. “More than 70% of last year’s economic development projects were expansions of businesses already operating here.”

First Quality and its affiliates manufacture baby diapers; youth and training pants; adult incontinence products; paper towels; and toilet paper. The company announced plans in March to expand its baby diaper and training pants manufacturing capacity by 50%.

“This expansion is a testament to First Quality’s innovative products and continuing commitment to the baby diaper market,” said Allen Bedford, president of First Quality’s Absorbent Hygiene Division.

First Quality will be filling executive, administrative, supervisory, and production positions. Openings will be posted at www.firstquality.com as they become available.

The Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Global Commerce team worked on the project in partnership with the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Development Authority, Georgia Power, and the Technical College System of Georgia’s Quick Start program.

U.S. House passes McBath’s prison oversight bill

ATLANTA – Legislation establishing oversight of the federal prison system sponsored by U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, has cleared the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bipartisan bill, which passed Tuesday with just two “no” votes and now moves to the U.S. Senate, would require the Justice Department’s Inspector General to conduct comprehensive inspections of the federal Bureau of Prisons’ 122 correctional facilities and provide recommendations to fix the problems it uncovers. The bureau would have 60 days to respond to all inspection reports with a corrective action plan.

The bill also would establish an independent ombudsman to investigate the health, safety, welfare, and rights of incarcerated people and staff. The ombudsman’s office would create a secure hotline and online form for family members, friends, and representatives of incarcerated people to submit complaints.

“Today’s vote marks significant progress in our work to make needed reforms to protect the staff and incarcerated individuals in our federal prison system,” McBath said Tuesday. “This is proof of what is possible when Democrats and Republicans work together for the benefit of the American people.”

“This is a major milestone,” added Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., who led an investigation into the federal prison system in 2022 and is sponsoring a Senate version of McBath’s bill. “My bipartisan Senate investigations of corruption, abuse, and misconduct in the federal prison system have revealed an urgent need to overhaul federal prison oversight.” 

The legislation has been endorsed by Families Against Mandatory Minimums, The Prison Fellowship, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and the Due Process Institute.

Jack, Dugan headed for runoff in 3rd Congressional District

Brian Jack

ATLANTA – A former aide in the Trump White House and a former state senator are headed toward a runoff to decide the Republican nominee in Georgia’s 3rd Congressional District.

Brian Jack, brandishing an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, was the top vote-getter in Tuesday’s GOP primary with 46.7% of the vote to 24.9% for second-place finisher Mike Dugan in the west-central Georgia district, according to unofficial results.

That left Jack short of the 50%-plus-one margin needed to avoid a June 18 runoff against Dugan. Three other candidates in a crowded Republican field seeking to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-West Point – former state Sen. Mike Crane, businessman Jim Bennett, and former state Rep. Philip Singleton – finished out of the running.

Jack played up his close ties with Trump during the campaign, while Dugan touted his accomplishments during a stint as Georgia Senate majority leader.

Meanwhile, Maura Keller defeated Val Almonord for the Democratic nomination in the heavily Republican 3rd District. Keller captured 53% of the vote to 47% for Almonord.