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The Jolt: Opponents of Confederate symbolism plan a pre-Super Bowl rally

A group of civil rights organizations and Democratic lawmakers are banding together again to sponsor legislation that would overturn the Georgia law that bars local communities from removing Confederate monuments.

Similar legislation introduced last year failed to get a hearing.

This year’s legislation is being pushed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the state and Atlanta chapters of the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice, the Moore’s Ford Movement, and Concerned Black Clergy.

Proponents of lifting the ban have scheduled a rally (location unstated) for Saturday, Feb. 2. That’s not an accidental date. It’s the day before the Super Bowl, when Atlanta will become the media hub of North America.

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We’re told that Sen. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, an announced candidate for the chairmanship of the state Democratic party, and Rep. Renitta Shannon, D-Decatur, will carry the legislation. Last year, House Bill 650, which had the same aim, was authored by state Reps. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, and Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus.

That effort, like this newest one, sought to overturn a legislative compromise reached in 2001 under the oversight of Gov. Roy Barnes. State protection for the local monuments was part of the price paid for the lowering of the ’56 state flag with the dominant Confederate battle emblem.

“Although individuals and institutions across the country have made remarkable efforts to stop glorifying the men who fought to divide this nation and maintain slavery, backward-looking legislation has blocked significant progress in Georgia,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, was quoted as saying in the press release.

From Richard Rose, president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP: “Under the guise of honoring war dead, Confederate monuments inspire white supremacy and have normalized racism from coast to coast. Symbols should be a way to honor the real values that make our state and country great. It is time to end the government endorsed hate of Confederate symbols on public land.”

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Suddenly, Gov.-elect Brian Kemp has grown notably noncommittal on legislation that would allow Georgians to carry concealed firearms without a permit.

In a Wednesday interview on GPB’s “Political Rewind,” House Speaker David Ralston said he would take a “very, very cautious view” to House Bill 2, referred to by gun enthusiasts as “constitutional carry.” Hours later, Kemp was asked how vigorously he’ll pursue the measure going into his first legislative session -- which begins Monday.

“I’ve been very clear. I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I know the Speaker is as well. A lot of it depends on what actually is in those bills – what it does, what it doesn’t do,” he said.

Kemp added: “My focus right now is going after street gangs, working on teacher pay raises. We’ve had a lot on our plate trying to get the budget ready, get through the transition to get people in the right places.”

The governor-elect, who supported the bill through the primary, was asked if that means it won’t be one of his more pressing priorities this session.

“Protecting the Second Amendment is always a priority of mine. But what that means and when it happens - I wouldn’t be able to say that’s any kind of priority right now,” Kemp said.

This morning, perhaps sensing a shift in the governor-elect’s attitude, Patrick Parsons of Georgia Gun Owners helpfully provided the form that Kemp signed endorsing the concept.

All six other GOP candidates for governor and lieutenant governor did likewise, Parsons wrote in an email -- proof, he said, that his organization is hardly the “fringe” group that Speaker Ralston labeled it:

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The incoming governor also put a finer point on his support for President Donald Trump in the partial federal shutdown. “The president is standing on conviction on something he said he’d do. The Republicans in Congress are standing with him,” he said. “I hope they’ll get it resolved, but I stand with him on securing the border and going after the criminal drug cartels that are in the country.”

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It’s funny how things change once election season ends. You’ll recall that in November 2017, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, gearing up for his gubernatorial run, filed a complaint with the state Immigration Enforcement Review Board, alleging that the city of Decatur had, contrary to state law, ordered its police officers not to cooperate with federal ICE agents.

In a draft decision, the panel found for the lieutenant governor just before last year’s May primary. But as of next Monday, Cagle will no longer be part of the state Capitol political scene.

Over at Decaturish.com, Dan Whisenhunt reports that, two days ago, the (reconstituted) immigration board and the city of Decatur came to a quiet agreement. A line or two from the city’s employee handbook was eliminated. The IERB agreed to observe state laws requiring open meetings and public access to its documents. And that May judgment for Cagle? “Null and void.”

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Our AJC colleague Ariel Hart reports that the battle between the state’s hospitals and the health care entrepreneurs who want a piece of their business is under way. Hospitals are out to protect the state’s Certificate of Need system, which aims to prevent for-profit businesses from cherry-picking the moneymaking services from hospitals and leaving the hospitals with the money-losing operations..

Several signs indicate that this the year the Legislature will finally bend to cries of private health care companies such as Cancer Treatment Centers of America, along with private outpatient surgery centers, and at least ease restrictions on private expansions.

House Speaker David Ralston and his House Rural Development Council said as much last month, starting off with the bombshell recommendation that the state’s CON be eliminated in metro Atlanta and significantly changed in the rest of the state.

Now comes the Georgia Hospital Association and the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals, which have spent months coming to agreement on their own bargaining position. There’s a lot of give-and-take and some no-take, but the big bullet point is this:

In conjunction with a host of other stands, they’d back the phasing out of a great thorn in the side of Cancer Treatment Centers of America -- the requirement that at least 65 percent of CTCA’s patients come from out of state. The hospitals’ support would be contingent on other issues, some related to money hospitals lose when caring for the indigent.

Read the agreement here. A lobbyist for the association said the phase-out period could be five years or so. A lobbyist for CTCA, Ray Williams, said he couldn’t comment on the proposal yet. But he said, “Cancer patients don’t have five years to wait to get the care they want and need.”

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But back to the federal shutdown: Georgia lawmakers in Washington are not breaking from their party’s lines as the border standoff approaches a third week. The state’s nine House Republicans and five Democrats voted with their party leaders on a Democratic spending bill that would reopen the IRS, Treasury Department and other financial regulatory agencies last night.

The White House had lobbied aggressively against the legislation amid fears that Republicans who had grown uneasy with the shutdown would support it en masse. In the end the lobbying blitz paid off. Only eight Republicans, all from swing districts, ended up backing the bill, which is dead on arrival in the GOP Senate.

U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, who narrowly won reelection last year in his increasingly competitive Gwinnett and Forsyth-based Seventh District, said Democrats were trying to “shamelessly use (the shutdown) to their political advantage.”

Albany Democrat Sanford Bishop said the bill was “vitally important for ensuring the federal government and the U.S. economy can work for the American people.” House Democrats have plans to advance several other piecemeal spending bills in the days ahead. None are expected to make it to President Trump’s desk.

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Amid yesterday’s shutdown sniping, state Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, paid a visit to the White House to witness the signing of an anti-human trafficking bill. Efstration is spearheading similar, local legislation in the upcoming session that would give law enforcement officials more resources to investigate sex trafficking crimes and create a legal framework between law enforcement, the judicial system, state agencies and advocacy groups to coordinate trauma care.

“Grateful for the President's leadership to stop human trafficking and save victims from these evil criminal enterprises,” Efstration tweeted after the event with Trump.

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