Tuesday, February 28, 2023

The outside of the Georgia state Capitol
Credit: Maggie Lee

Crossover Day Looms

The Georgia legislature’s deadline for a bill to pass out of either the Senate or House of Representatives — a.k.a., Crossover Day — is Monday. If the bill fails to do so, it can no longer be considered in the current 40-day session, which is set to end March 29.

We’re monitoring the fate of legislation sponsored by Coastal Georgia senators and representatives, in particular:

• In education, SB 233, co-sponsored by Sen. Ben Watson (R-Savannah), would create the state’s first general voucher program and give $6,000 a year to parents to help cover education-related costs, including private school tuition.

• As expected in the Republican-dominated legislature, public safety legislation is moving ahead, starting with a bill co-sponsored by Reps. Ron Stephens (R-Savannah) and Jesse Petrea (R-Savannah) that would make the post of district attorney a nonpartisan position and shift the DA elections from general elections in the fall to the primaries in the spring. The shift to a spring election would benefit DA candidates more attractive to Republican voters, who traditionally outnumber Democratic primary voters.

• The raft of tough-on-crime legislation includes a Senate bill that would add bail requirements to 53 additional criminal offenses. In an editorial, The Brunswick News called the bill “a good step toward dealing with crime.” Daniel Mears, a research professor in criminology and Florida State University, tells Capitol Beat that the measure is “one of the things where it sounds good in theory, but there’s very little consistent evidence to suggest that there’s that beneficial effect.”

• Sen. Billy Hickman (R-Statesboro) is one of 21 senators urging a ban on the selling and distributing of what the bill’s main author, Sen. Greg Dolezal (R-Cumming), calls “obscene” materials in school libraries. In a recent interview, Dolezal sidestepped questions over whether school librarians would face fines and imprisonment under the proposed legislation.

SB 140, co-sponsored by Watson, a medical doctor, and Hickman, would prohibit medical professionals from giving transgender children certain hormones or surgical treatment that assists them in aligning with their gender identity. Transgender advocates say it is rare for doctors to perform nonreversible procedures on minors.

SB 162, co-sponsored by Watson, would replace Georgia’s certificate of need (CON) law governing hospitals with a less restrictive “special health-care service” license. Supporters of the legislation say the current law is outdated.  Writing in the opinion pages of the Effingham Herald, an opponent of the bill, Dr. Fran Witt, president and CEO of Effingham Health System, says the legislation would “endanger the people of Effingham County” by “repealing a state law that has protected Georgians’ access to hospital care for more than 40 years.”

• Legislation to legalize some forms of gambling moved ahead in both chambers of the legislature, including a Senate bill co-sponsored by Hickman and Derek Mallow (D-Savannah), the “Georgia Sports Betting Integrity Act,” that would legalize sports betting and similar legislation in the House co-sponsored by Reps. Stephens and Al Williams (D-Midway). Supporters say legalizing sports betting would add a revenue stream that would aid education in the state. Opponents cite concerns over gambling addiction and argue that legal sports betting could end up costing the state. “Sports gambling also makes poor people poorer,” Dr. John Kindt said in the committee. “Click your phone, lose your home. Click your mouse, lose your house.”|

A bill co-sponsored by Stephens that would increase the tax on cigarettes by $0.20, to $0.57 per pack, is running into opposition from anti-tax lawmakers and the tobacco lobby.

• The future of legislation in the state Senate that would ban plastic bags distributed at the point of sale starting Jan. 1, 2026, is uncertain. No state senator from Coastal Georgia is currently a co-sponsor of the bill.

Buddy Carter
U.S. Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter during an interview at the Capitol. Credit: buddycarter.house.gov

‘Only Gotten Worse’

Coastal Georgia Congressman Buddy Carter, along with Rep. Rick Allen (R-Augusta), visited Rio Grande Valley in Texas last week for briefings on the situation on the U.S.-Mexico border. It was Carter’s sixth visit to the border since entering Congress in 2015.

Carter reports:Disappointingly, things have only gotten worse at the border since my visit last year as the number of illegal immigrants crossing the border as well as illegal drugs are at all-time highs.”

The factual basis of Carter’s fusion of the fentanyl scourge with illegal immigration has been challenged. Notes Politifact: “Although immigration encounters at the southern U.S. border have spiked under Biden’s watch, experts say most of the fentanyl coming into the U.S. from Mexico is coming through legal ports of entry. The vast majority of people sentenced for fentanyl trafficking are U.S. citizens, data shows.”

Nevertheless, “securing the southern border” and “stopping the flow of fentanyl” will remain potent talking points for Carter. They serve him well as he considers his political future after losing his bid for chairman of the House Budget Committee. His path to the chairmanship of a powerful House committee having been thwarted last month, Republican insiders in Coastal Georgia say he’s contemplating a run for governor in 2026.

Carter’s nose for tug-at-the-heartstrings stories that can serve to draw statewide attention for a possible gubernatorial challenge is formidable. Last week, he appeared on YouTube with a 6-year-old Georgian, Brodie Kenyon, whose video urging a four-day work week earlier in the month went viral and landed him on Fox News. Carter told Kenyon he would relay Brodie’s endorsement of a three-day weekend to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Opaque and Confusing

The high-stakes search for a new superintendent for the Savannah-Chatham County School System seems to become more opaque and confusing by the week.

The Savannah-Chatham County School System’s Division of Communications and Community Engagement notified news organizations last week that it would convene a “workshop” tomorrow at 9 a.m. to discuss the search for a successor to the retiring superintendent, Dr. M. Ann Levett.

A separate e-mail the same day informed reporters the school board would convene an “informal meeting” followed by a closed-door executive session the same day.

As of yesterday, a notice appearing on the SCCPSS website said the “informal meeting” would begin at 11 a.m. Elsewhere in the same notice, it said the meeting would begin at 10 a.m.

Furthermore, although the emails said the “workshop” and “informal meeting” are to be livestreamed via SCCPSS.com or the district’s YouTube Channel (http://www.youtube.com/sccpsscommunications​), it wasn’t made clear what topics would be discussed in the “workshop” and “informal meeting.”


Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta commits millions to grow rural pediatric care” (GPB, Feb. 24, 2023) Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is dedicating $200 million in long-term funding for ambitious plans to improve pediatric health care in rural parts of the state. A large part of those funds will pay back tuition for 10 students at the Mercer University School of Medicine who commit to practicing rural pediatrics for four years after graduation, starting this year.”

Biden linked covid to a spike in violent crime. He omitted factors.” (Washington Post, Feb. 15, 2023) “In his State of the Union address, the president suggested the rise in violent crime was connected to the coronavirus pandemic. But the link is incomplete.”

Liberty County Remembers Ahmaud Arbery” (WSAV, Feb. 26, 2023) “That’s just something unfortunately we’ve had to grow up with, having a conversation about safety and your surroundings. It’s just important that we not just remember, but we actually take some kind of action to avoid the next one, if at all possible,” [Renee] Reese says. 

The End of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency: Details on Health Coverage and Access” (KFF, Feb. 3, 2023) “On Jan. 30, 2023, the Biden administration announced it will end the public health emergency (and national emergency) declarations on May 11, 2023. Here’s what major health policies will and won’t change when the public health emergency ends.”

How a small-town train derailment erupted into a culture battle” (Washington Post, Feb. 25, 2023) “Three weeks after the disaster, it seems clear that the Biden administration was caught off guard, unprepared for the possibility that the nonfatal crash would become a prism for the country’s political battles.”

Healthy Georgia Report: Our State of Public Health” (Institute of Public and Preventative Health, Augusta University, Jan. 31, 2023) Georgia ranks 49th in the U.S. for residents without health insurance. The Peach State lags the other 11 states in the Southeast by nearly 3 percentage points and the country overall by nearly 5 percentage points.

Choose Your Fighter” (Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, Feb. 16, 2023) “If there’s one thing we know about GOP primary voters these days, it’s that they love a fighter; someone not afraid to mix it up with the media, challenge the establishment, and berate ‘woke’ companies and institutions. . . . Long gone are the days of George W. Bush’s ‘compassionate conservatism’ or Mitt Romney’s traditional pro-business ‘corporations are people’ rhetoric. The GOP base wants someone who can throw a punch — or two, or three — at everyone and everything.”

DeSantis to skip this year’s CPAC” (The Hill, Feb. 27, 2023) Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will skip this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), according to a person familiar with the plans. . . . Other 2024 Republican hopefuls, including former President Trump and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, are set to speak at CPAC this year. The list also includes would-be contenders like former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.”

TitleMax fined $15 million for predatory lending to soldiers, families

The federal consumer watchdog group says the Georgia-based company intentionally evaded laws meant to protect military families from predatory lenders.

Georgia legislators back bill to rein in title pawn industry

Sponsor says he sees the current situation, in which title pawn lenders obscure the true cost of their products, as “predatory.” He wants Georgia law to hew closer to what other states have done to protect consumers from this type of subprime lending.

‘Stop this incursion’: Proposed mine near Okefenokee Swamp draws fierce opposition in public hearing

The virtual public meeting was held by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, as the agency considers a plan from the Alabama-based company to mine titanium dioxide close to the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge.

We want to meet your friends! If you like this newsletter be sure to share it.

Support non-partisan, solutions-based investigative journalism without bias, fear or favor on issues affecting Savannah and Coastal Georgia.

Craig Nelson is a former international correspondent for The Associated Press, the Sydney (Australia) Morning-Herald, Cox Newspapers and The Wall Street Journal. He also served as foreign editor for The...