The scene outside the state Capitol this morning. AJC/Special

The Jolt: Abortion bill debate puts a focus on suburban Republicans

We’ve been warned to expect a lengthy and heated afternoon debate in the state Senate today over House Bill 481, the anti-abortion “heartbeat” bill that is being taken up in several red states, particularly in the South.

This morning, lawmakers are already talking about the stepped-up presence of police on the grounds.

Passage of the measure, which would essentially ban all abortions after six weeks, is expected. HB 481 has the support of Gov. Brian Kemp, who promised voters the strictest anti-abortion law in the nation in his campaign.

However, we’re told that several Republican senators, particularly those in suburban Atlanta, are worried about the bill’s 2020 implications.

HB 481, authored by state Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, passed the House two weeks ago on a 93-73 vote that saw 11 House members either seek to be excused from voting, or simply didn’t vote. Eight were Republicans.

With solid Democratic opposition expected, the 35-member Republican caucus in the Senate can afford to lose only a handful of votes. 

One is already off the table: Kay Kirkpatrick, an east Cobb physician, is attending a funeral Friday and is not expected to be at the state Capitol for the vote. Some Democrats, in fact, suspect that her legitimate excuse is one reason that the vote has been scheduled for today -- to offer protection to one of only two Republican women in the chamber. 

The other member of the Senate Republican women’s caucus, Renee Unterman of Buford, is carrying the bill. She’s considering a 2020 bid for the Seventh District congressional seat being vacated by Rob Woodall.

Three other suburban Republicans could also be in tricky spots. John Albers of Roswell and P.K. Martin of Lawrenceville both represent fast-changing north Atlanta districts and will likely face stiff Democratic competition in 2020. 

And Brandon Beach, an Alpharetta executive running for Congress next year, also has a choice to make: Vote for the bill and give U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, an opening to attack, or vote against it and risk being branded a weak conservative in a likely GOP primary against former congresswoman Karen Handel. 

Another trio is also worth watching. We’re picking up word that Dean Burke of Bainbridge, Bill Cowsert of Athens and Frank Ginn of Danielsville are conflicted over the measure.


Unlike a series of state Capitol fights over “religious liberty” legislation, Georgia business interests are staying out of the fight over HB 481, despite prodding from Democrat Stacey Abrams.


One aspect of the abortion debate is a race to get a state law before a changing U.S. Supreme Court. On Thursday, Gov. Phil Bryant signed a Mississippi version of the “heartbeat” bill. From the Associated Press:

Bryant's action came despite a federal judge's ruling last year that struck down a less-restrictive law limiting abortions in the state. The New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights called the new measure "cruel and clearly unconstitutional" and said it would sue Mississippi to try to block the law from taking effect on July 1.

The law that Bryant signed Thursday says a physician who performs an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected could face revocation of his or her Mississippi medical license. It also says abortions could be allowed after a fetal heartbeat is found if a pregnancy endangers a woman's life or one of her major bodily functions. The House and Senate both rejected efforts to allow exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.

Georgia’s version would allow abortions to exceed six weeks in cases of rape and incest, but would require that formal police reports be filed when those crimes are alleged.

Tennessee is another state considering a “heartbeat’ bill. Kentucky's version was immediately challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union when Republican Gov. Matt Bevin signed it on March 14. A federal judge has temporarily blocked it.


We told you earlier about Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris’ upcoming Atlanta visit. We know more now. The California senator plans to speak Sunday morning at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Then she’ll head to Morehouse College’s Forbes Arena for a rally. Details can be had here.


On Thursday, anonymous word broke that former Vice President Joe Biden, who has yet to formally enter the 2020 presidential fray, was considering former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams as a running mate right out of the box. Some reaction:

-- Former Vermont governor and DNC Howard Dean was asked for his reaction by Julie Mason in “The Press Pool” on SiriusXM's POTUS channel. Said Dean:

“I think its brilliant. Because Biden is yesterday’s news, as is Bernie to a certain extent. Biden’s and Bernie’s biggest vulnerability, despite their numbers, is they’ve been around for a long time and people are really wanting something new….

“Biden would electrify the voters if he chose someone like Stacey Abrams. The question is, would Stacey Abrams want to do it? We cannot run two white guys on the top of our ticket anymore. Our core base is under 35, women and people of color.”

-- And this came from Connie Schultz, wife of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, via Twitter:

Not promoting this strategy, but let’s dispense with talk of gimmickry or Biden “using” Stacey Abrams. Such framing disrespects her. If ever there were a person in charge of her own life, it is Stacey Abrams.


Your overlooked document of the day is a March 5 letter to members of the state Senate from the Georgia Municipal Association, opposing SB 131, the measure to authorize a state takeover of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The advice was ignored, possibly because the letter is addressed to a Democrat, Horacena Tate of Atlanta. The Senate passed the bill two days later.

Still, the issue is likely to come up again, given that it has become a part of HB 447, a measure aimed at Delta Air Lines that would actually raise the state tax on aviation fuel. Click here to download your copy. From the GMA letter:

…If the state wanted to assume for itself the property and obligations of City of Atlanta’s airport, it would need to treat such an act as a condemnation, refund the existing bonds, and compensate the city for the existing value of the infrastructure and assets of the airport. Under the Tax Cuts and Jobs act of 2017, earnings from these refundings would not be tax-exempt and thus paid at a lower interest rate. Instead, they would be taxable bonds and repayable at a higher interest rate. This is not a good deal for Atlanta or the state of Georgia.

…As noted in the January 24, 2018 memorandum to Governor Nathan Deal from Diana Pope, Director of the Financing and Investment Division of the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission, “it is quite possible that adding a layer of state oversight or changing ownership of the Airport will cast a negative perception that could negatively impact credit ratings because of the potential disruption in services and uncertainty of how it may impact existing and future business relationships.

This uncertainty and negative perception quite probably would affect cities and counties across the state of Georgia as potential purchasers of their bonds would have to consider whether the state might decide to appropriate for itself assets purchased or constructed with bond proceeds.


Spread The Vote, a nonprofit that helps people secure IDs so they can vote, has hired a Democratic Party of Georgia veteran as its state director. Alaina Reaves will help the group expand its presence beyond its nine current Georgia chapters. Reaves previously worked as the top aide to Georgia House Minority Whip Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus, and as a field organizer for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

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