In Georgia, Democrats benefit the most from the support of Black voters, but the new districts won’t necessarily increase the party’s numbers in the state Legislature.
Republicans are still permitted by law to redistrict for partisan advantage — they just can’t discriminate against Black voters.
First came the map for the Senate, where Republicans hold a 33-23 edge.
It attempted to comply with Jones’ order by turning two districts majority-Black, but both were already held by Democrats, state Sens. Jason Esteves in Cobb and Fulton counties and Elena Parent in DeKalb County.
No incumbents, be they Democrats or Republicans, were paired against each other in the Senate map.
It didn’t work out that way in the map for the House, where Republicans currently hold 102 seats to 78 for Democrats.
Eight lawmakers were paired with colleagues from their own party — again to the detriment of Democrats. Six of them could be forced to run against each other while only two Republican incumbents would possibly face off in the same district.
The map would set up these potential intraparty showdowns:
- Democratic state Reps. Teri Anulewicz vs. Doug Stoner, both from Smyrna.
- Democratic state Reps. Saira Draper vs. Becky Evans, both from Atlanta.
- Democratic state Reps. Greg Kennard vs. Sam Park, both from Lawrenceville.
- Republican state Reps. Beth Camp of Concord and David Knight of Griffin, who currently represent areas south of Atlanta including Lamar, Pike, Spalding and Upson counties.
Camp and Knight both said they would support the map. Speculation is that one of them will retire rather than run against the other.
“No matter the future outcome of elections,” Knight said, “I know the constituents of Spalding, Pike and Lamar will be well represented.”
Legislators face a Dec. 8 deadline to finish work on the maps, which will then be subject to Jones’ approval.
Medicaid expansion could come with easing of Georgia hospital regulations
Momentum appears to be building for a compromise that would allow a full expansion of Medicaid to thousands of low-income Georgians in exchange for rolling back the state’s hospital regulations.
Many Republicans in the past have resisted any large-scale additions to the state’s Medicaid rolls under the Affordable Care Act, but some are now looking at a program GOP-led Arkansas adopted to make 250,000 additional residents eligible for coverage.
In return, they are seeking significant changes to the state’s certificate of need rules, which require medical providers to undergo a state approval process before they can build a new hospital or expand health care facilities.
Supporters say the rules prevent private practices from cherry-picking the most lucrative patients and leaving hospitals with money losers, such as rural emergency and primary care patients. Critics say the policy is outdated and helps powerful hospitals maintain their dominance.
The certificate of need fight has consumed enormous amounts of energy and attention during recent legislative sessions.
This year, Lt. Gov. Burt Jones led a push in the Senate that would have struck down certificate of need requirements in rural parts of the state, allowing new hospitals and for-profit medical offices to be built in counties with fewer than 50,000 residents. That would have paved the way for construction of a medical center in Butts County, possibly on land owned by Jones’ father.
It didn’t pass then but remains a priority for Jones and his Senate allies. A Senate committee this past week approved recommendations that include a full repeal of the certificate of need rules.
Full Medicaid expansion — and the billions of federal dollars that would subsidize it — could become a bargaining chip over the certificate of need.
If Georgia opts for full expansion, it could follow the course Arkansas took, using those federal dollars to buy private insurance for residents who lack coverage. Arkansas state Sen. Missy Irvin recently met with a small group of Georgia Republicans to discuss how she helped lead the Medicaid expansion in her state.
Georgia is one of only 10 states that haven’t fully expanded Medicaid eligibility.
Then-Gov. Nathan Deal blocked a full expansion about a decade ago.
Since then, Democrats and a handful of Republicans have pressed to expand the Medicaid program, but they’ve been blocked by GOP leaders who say a broader expansion would be too costly and inflexible in the long term.
A plan Gov. Brian Kemp pushed through extends Medicaid coverage to Georgians who meet work or activity requirements. But in the first three months since its launch July 1, just 1,343 uninsured adults enrolled out of about 370,000 that Kemp aides estimated would qualify.
Now, full expansion appears to be gaining traction.
State Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Hufstetler, a GOP supporter of expansion, says he thinks it may be possible this time.
“I see a win that’s workable for everybody,” he said, “combined with a Medicaid expansion.”
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Prices to rise at the pump as Kemp ends suspension of state gas tax collections
Be prepared to start paying more at the pump: Gov. Brian Kemp has allowed a suspension of the state’s motor fuel tax to lapse.
That means motorists will be paying an extra 31.2 cents per gallon of unleaded gasoline, 35 cents for diesel.
It won’t happen right away.
The fuel now at service stations was not taxed during the suspension, but prices will begin to rise as new gasoline hits the market.
Under a state of emergency, Kemp was allowed to waive collections of the tax as long as legislators approve the decision when they next meet. Lawmakers are back at the Capitol this week for a court-ordered special session to draw new political maps, but Kemp doesn’t plan to ask them to also take up the gas tax.
The suspension had been useful to Kemp at a time when prices nationally topped $4 per gallon — and while he was running for reelection.
The state first suspended collections in March 2022, and Kemp — required to either extend the suspension or let it lapse on a monthly basis — basked in the warm glow of media coverage with each announcement that drivers would not have to fork over more money for gas for another 30 days or so.
Kemp first let the suspension lapse in January as prices fell below $3 per gallon, but he brought it back in September.
At the time, he blamed President Joe Biden’s administration for rising costs, although analysts attributed the price increases to higher demand and global supply cuts. Republicans have accused the Biden administration of stifling growth in the petroleum industry, but U.S. oil production is expected to set a record this year.
The suspensions have cost the state — and saved drivers — $150 million to $190 million a month. Kemp said Georgians saved $1.7 billion during the previous 10-month break.
The state’s been able to handle the loss of revenue, which is used to build roads and bridges, thanks to three consecutive years of massive revenue surpluses. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in October that Georgia has a record $16 billion in its rainy day and “undesignated” reserve funds.
AAA reported that as of Thursday, the average price of unleaded regular gas in Georgia was $2.79 per gallon, the fourth-lowest average price in the nation and 45 cents below the U.S. average.
Credit: Michael Blackshire
Credit: Michael Blackshire
High court rules against panel Trump supporters hoped to use against Willis
A new state law is on hold, robbing supporters of former President Donald Trump an opportunity to punish Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.
The state Supreme Court rendered moot the law that created the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission, a panel that would have the authority to sanction and even remove prosecutors it determined were not doing their job.
The court said in its ruling that it had “grave doubts” about whether it had the constitutional authority to approve the rules for the commission, a step the law required.
Georgia Senate Republican leaders filed a formal complaint to the commission in October seeking to sanction Willis after she brought an indictment alleging that Trump and 18 co-defendants had engaged in a “criminal enterprise” to overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election.
Gov. Brian Kemp promoted creation of the panel during this year’s regular session of the General Assembly, although he has said there’s no evidence that Willis has violated state law.
The law was one of numerous Republican-led efforts nationwide to exert more control over liberal prosecutors they accuse of neglecting their duties because they refuse to enforce low-level drug offenses, anti-abortion restrictions and tough-on-crime crackdowns.
Some lawmakers saw the possibility of trouble for the measure as it worked its way through the General Assembly.
The Senate passed an amendment that would have removed the Supreme Court’s role in the process. The House, however, did not adopt that change, so it wasn’t in the final version that Kemp signed.
Lawmakers are expected to take another crack at the measure when they return for the legislative session that begins in January.
The commission still faces a broader legal challenge from a bipartisan coalition of district attorneys who argue the measure is unconstitutional.
“While we celebrate this as a victory,” said DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston, one of the prosecutors who brought the lawsuit, “we remain steadfast in our commitment to fight any future attempts to undermine the will of Georgia voters and the independence of the prosecutors who they choose to represent them.”
Better pay urged for caseworkers in state’s foster care system
Case managers would receive pay raises as one of the fixes a state Senate panel recommended to the General Assembly for improving Georgia’s child welfare system.
“The work on behalf of our foster kids will never be finished,” said Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, a Republican who headed the Senate Study Committee on Foster Care and Adoption. “This committee’s work is just a strong start.”
Higher pay would target the soaring turnover in the Division of Family and Children Services that began with the coronavirus pandemic and left remaining caseworkers with heavier workloads.
In addition to higher salaries, the panel is seeking legislation in the 2024 General Assembly session that would create a special court to focus on safety for at-risk infants and toddlers and add resources to connect DFCS with nongovernmental groups that provide services to families and children in need.
The state has already piloted “Infant-Toddler” courts, capitalizing on successes in other states. The study committee recommended expanding the program to prevent more children from entering the foster care system.
Kirkpatrick said a number of political players are pressing for changes, including Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, other key Georgia lawmakers and the state commissioner for the Department of Human Services.
“We’ve got a window of opportunity right now,” Kirkpatrick said. “The ducks are lining up in a row to where we really can make some progress.”
Democrat pushes for mediation to settle disputes between homeowners, HOAs
Democrats will take up the fight once again when legislators return to the Georgia Capitol in January to curb the power of homeowner associations.
Georgia provides minimal oversight of homeowner associations, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found last year, giving them broad powers over the estimated 2.2 million residents who reside within HOA communities.
That can leave a homeowner at a great disadvantage in a dispute with an HOA.
Homeowners who fall behind on dues or various fines can lose their home, even if they already own it outright.
They have few opportunities for relief. They can file a lawsuit in civil court, but that can be costly. Lawyers who represent homeowners are few, and pursuing a lawsuit against an HOA can cost thousands of dollars — often exceeding the amount of the fines. Plus, if the homeowner loses, Georgia law allows an HOA to charge the homeowner for its attorney fees.
State Sen. Donzella James earlier this year proposed Senate Bill 29, which would require homeowners and their HOA to mediate disputes over unpaid assessments in an effort to avoid a protracted and costly court battle.
The Atlanta Democrat’s bill never got a floor vote, nor did a similar measure proposed in the House by state Rep. Viola Davis, a Democrat from Stone Mountain. But James said she will push the issue again during the 2024 session.
James wants to establish an ombudsman’s office that would act as a third party to mediate disputes, something seven states already have, according to the Community Association Institute.
“They could have somebody to go to that’s not partisan on either side,” James said.
James’ bill will face an uphill battle. Georgia Republicans, who hold the majority in each chamber of the General Assembly, have been resistant to regulating HOAs.
But James remains optimistic.
“I can’t think of one major bill that passed first try,” James said.
Shift in the governor’s office: Trey Kilpatrick is stepping down as chief of staff to Gov. Brian Kemp, a job he’s held since October 2020. Kilpatrick is leaving to take a job with Georgia Power as its senior vice president of external affairs. Lauren Curry, the deputy chief of staff, will move into Kilpatrick’s role, becoming the first woman in state history to permanently serve as the governor’s top aide.