Georgia House Rules Chairman Jay Powell dies during retreat

The chairman of the influential Georgia House Rules Committee, state Rep. Jay Powell, collapsed and died Monday during a retreat of Republican legislative leaders at Brasstown Valley Resort. He was 67.

Powell, an attorney from Camilla, was a powerful advocate for rural Georgia and an authority on tax policy during his 10 years in the House of Representatives.

“This loss touches us all and leaves a hole in our hearts and in the heart of our House family,” said House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge. “Jay Powell served with integrity and his leadership truly moved Georgia forward.”

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

Powell served one year as the leader of the Rules Committee, which decided which bills would receive final votes in the full House of Representatives. Powell was previously chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the primary tax-writing committee.

“Chairman Powell was a trusted leader and compassionate public servant whose work positively impacted countless people’s lives over the years,” said Gov. Brian Kemp. “His loss is devastating to Georgia.”

Powell championed efforts to revitalize rural areas and supported legislation to fund internet construction, expand rural transit and give tax incentives to professionals to move to small towns. He was the co-chairman of the House Rural Development Council in 2017 and 2018.

His efforts resulted in laws that allow local electricity cooperatives to sell online services, permit more small hospitals and distribute future tax revenue for internet expansion.

Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who ran for governor against Kemp last year, said Powell worked in a bipartisan way to improve Georgia.

“Though Chairman Jay Powell and I stood on separate sides of the aisle, we worked together to advance good tax policy for Georgia and to support our local governments,” said Abrams, who was minority leader in the Georgia House before her run for governor. “He cared about community and getting good done.”

Powell and more than a dozen other Republican leaders of the Georgia House were attending a retreat to plan their priorities for the 2020 legislative session. The GBI is investigating his death because he was a state official.

Before his election to the Georgia House in 2008, Powell was the mayor of Camilla from 1996 to 2007. He was also a municipal court judge and a member of several local boards.

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins said after Powell was elected to the Georgia House, they were seated next to each other in the House chamber.

“Over those many hours on the floor, he shared his thoughts about life, law and politics that made me a better person,” said Collins, a Republican representing the Gainesville area. “Jay always had my back even through the storms of politics, which means more than anything. He helped me as a new attorney and provided wise counsel over the years regarding our public service.”

During the last two years, Powell supported a proposal to impose a tax on video streaming, books and music to raise money that would subsidize internet lines for Georgians that struggle to get online. That legislation hasn't passed but could be considered in next year's legislative session.

“Chairman Powell treated everyone with kindness and respect,” said state Rep. Scott Holcomb, a Democrat from Atlanta. “He tried to find common ground and he deeply cared about our state and its people. His loss is crushing for the House.”

Powell became chairman of the House Rules Committee last year after his predecessor, Chairman John Meadows of Calhoun, died last November at age 74.

“Jay was well respected because of his strong work ethic, his ability to put sound policy above political bickering and most of all, because he was a great guy,” said Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan.

— Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article