House leaders signal they want school bus drivers to keep health insurance

Our AJC colleague James Salzer has found the first evidence that the state’s school bus drivers and cafeteria workers may not have to worry about losing their health insurance coverage, as Gov. Nathan Deal recommended in his $21.7 billion state budget last week:

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Visitors to the Gold Dome on Monday were surprised to learn that the second-floor entrance on Capitol Avenue, which has been called the Capitol's new front door since the sparkling Liberty Plaza opened across the street, was restricted to those with badges. At the same time, a first-floor entrance on the same street was open to visitors.

The Department of Public Safety sent word that the switch was made at the request of Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle's office, which sits near that entrance. Spokesman Ben Fry said the office won't discuss security procedures but is confident that state troopers will "keep consistent or expand public access."

One potential reason: The park has led to an increased traffic flow through the entryway, with many visitors searching for elusive bathrooms on the second floor. (There are women's restrooms but none for the men).

This isn't the first time an executive officer has ordered a change to doorways in recent years. Gov. Nathan Deal's staff restricted first-floor access to a suite of offices last year after what was described as "a few unnerving incidents."

The changes have not gone unnoticed at the Gold Dome. Longtime lobbyist Neil Herring called the switcheroo "elitist thoughtlessness."

"The idea that this building, the State Capitol, the most public building we have should be hard to get into during the very time that our representative officials are meeting, supposedly in our behalf, is inexcusable," he said.

Updated at 11 a.m.: Our AJC colleague Janel Davis just reported that, on a point of personal privilege, state Sen. Horacena Tate, D-Atlanta, said she has concerns that the shutting of the second-floor door might create a fire safety problem -- and once again cuts off ff access to the public :

“The only doors that we have full access to the people’s building happens to be the south side doors. And …. We have totally cut off access to the people to be able to come to their Capitol. If we had a fire in here, God forbid, … we are cutting off access to the public and we are endangering lives of people once they get here if anything were to happen.”

“We need to think about what cutting off access means to the people who vote for us, to our constituents and to each one of us when we cut off access.”

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A certain former congressman came to visit Gov. Nathan Deal yesterday.

We asked Deal spokesman Brian Robinson that very question. And he offered an answer only he could.

Said Robinson:

"They’re wrong. That’s actually not Phil Gingey.

From the photo that appears to be Phil Gingrey, who is a former colleague and good friend of Gov. Deal. Old friends come in to see the governor quite frequently."

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Pravda, Indiana style: Let's hope it doesn't catch on. From the Indianapolis Star:

Gov. Mike Pence is starting a state-run taxpayer-funded news outlet that will make pre-written news stories available to Indiana media, as well as sometimes break news about his administration, according to documents obtained by The Indianapolis Star.

Pence is planning in late February to launch "Just IN," a website and news outlet that will feature stories and news releases written by state press secretaries and is being overseen by a former Indianapolis Star reporter, Bill McCleery.

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Here's your jaw-dropping lede of the day, from the Washington Post:

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — A network of conservative advocacy groups backed by Charles and David Koch aims to spend a staggering $889 million in advance of the next White House election, part of an expansive strategy to build on its 2014 victories that may involve jumping into the Republican primaries.

The massive financial goal was revealed to donors here Monday during an annual winter meeting hosted by Freedom Partners, the tax-exempt business lobby that serves as the hub of the Koch-backed political operation, according to an attendee. The amount is more than double the $407 million that 17 allied groups in the network raised during the 2012 campaign.

The figure comes close to the $1 billion that each of the two major parties’ presidential nominees are expected to spend in 2016, and it cements the network’s standing as one of the country’s most potent political forces.

The Post also reports that Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., was one of the Republican freshmen on hand to thank donors at the meeting.

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U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., offered some predictions on the highway trust fund Monday in a speech to the Georgia Municipal Association's mayors' conference. Here's the Atlanta Business Chronicle's Dave Williams:

The votes may be there to replenish the sagging trust fund by cutting taxes on foreign corporate earnings, a move that would encourage U.S. companies to pay those taxes rather than shelter their profits overseas, Isakson told local government officials from across Georgia during the Georgia Municipal Association's annual Mayor's Conference.

Under a bipartisan plan being pushed by Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the revenue collected from the tax would be put into the trust fund for two years.

"It will be a temporary solution but at least a two-year solution," Isakson said.

Isakson said a longer-term solution likely to be debated this year would involve finding a different way to calculate the federal gasoline tax that would get away from basing the tax on cents per gallon. Options could include indexing the tax to the price of fuel or charging motorists based on the number of miles they drive.

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A couple of Capitol Hill hearings to keep an eye on:

- Rep. Tom Price, R-Roswell, chairs his first big House Budget Committee hearing on the Congressional Budget Office's outlook, starting at 10:30 a.m., livestream here. This could be the final House hearing for CBO director Doug Elmendorf, who Republicans are looking to replace.

- Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch goes in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday at 10 a.m., livestream here. Current AG Eric Holder has been a GOP punching bag, and Republicans are likely to grill Lynch on a wide variety of issues. Politico has a good curtain-raiser here, and it notes that newcomer Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., has not yet tipped his hand on whether he will vote for Lynch.

This post is updated to reflect the Lynch hearing is tomorrow, not today.

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Minister and MARTA engineer Derrick Grayson, mounting a long-shot primary challenge to Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., is having trouble raising money. From an email solicitation last night:

"I wanted to reach out to everyone this evening and update you on our fundraising MoneyBomb that we have been running over the past couple of days. To date, there have been 20 people who have contributed a total of $960.15 towards our goal of $100,000 by June 1st."

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An interesting read from Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel on the rise of "scam PACs," which exist almost completely to enrich consultants rather than elect or evict the various political leaders they advertise to small-dollar donors.

One of the most prominent critics of the political action committees is WSB Radio host Erick Erickson, and the PACs have often been pushing Georgians:

A POLITICO analysis of reports filed with the Federal Election Commission covering the 2014 cycle found that 33 PACs that court small donors with tea party-oriented email and direct-mail appeals raised $43 million — 74 percent of which came from small donors....

“These groups have the pulse of the crowd, and they recognize that they can make a profit off the angst of the conservative base voters who are looking for outsiders,” said the influential conservative pundit Erick Erickson, who has taken it upon himself to call out PAC operators and fundraisers he sees as scams....

Questions about profiteering have swirled around PACs and operatives who have claimed to be supporting African-American conservatives, including former Rep. Allen West, 2012 presidential candidate Herman Cain, fringe 2016 hopeful Ben Carson and two-time unsuccessful House candidate Deborah Honeycutt of Georgia....

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Lamborghini, mercy. 2 Chainz is so thirsty -- for political power.

The rapper is considering a run for mayor of College Park, according to our AJC colleague Melissa Ruggieri in a story that's bound to get a bit of web traffic:

“I am looking forward to running at the end of this year or next year. [I’m] waiting to see if I meet all of the qualifications!” the “Mercy” rapper told the AJC Monday afternoon.

Word of 2 Chainz’s political ambitions initially surfaced in an interview with XXLMag.com.

“I’m supposed to be running for mayor in College Park. I got everybody wishing,” he told the site.

2 Chainz, legally known as Tauheed Epps, earned high marks as a student at Alabama State University, which he attended on a basketball scholarship.

But the 37-year-old also has a few arrests for narcotics possession on his resume. His quest for mayoral supremacy would pit him against Jack Longino, who has served as College Park’s mayor since 1996.

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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