Capitol Recap: Budget calls for more raises for Georgia state employees

State workers in law enforcement, including troopers in the Georgia State Patrol, would be in line for $3,000 raises under a budget for fiscal 2025 that advanced this past week in the state House. Law enforcement employees received raises of $6,000 during the current fiscal year. (AP Photo/Russ Bynum)

State workers in law enforcement, including troopers in the Georgia State Patrol, would be in line for $3,000 raises under a budget for fiscal 2025 that advanced this past week in the state House. Law enforcement employees received raises of $6,000 during the current fiscal year. (AP Photo/Russ Bynum)

Pay for most workers would go up 4%; teachers would get $2,500

Another round of raises appears to be in the works for most state employees as the budget for fiscal 2025 takes shape.

State law enforcement employees, who received pay increases of $6,000 last year, would see that bumped up an additional $3,000 in the spending plan that would go into effect July 1. Child protection and placement services caseworkers in the Division of Family and Children Services would also see their salaries jump by $3,000.

Other rank-and-file workers would receive 4% increases — up to about the first $70,000 in salary — and teachers would get $2,500 more under the plan that moved this past week through the Georgia House.

The budget — not to be confused with the midyear budget that Gov. Brian Kemp has already signed, adding $5.5 billion in spending by June 30 — also seeks more money for schools.

The fiscal 2025 budget includes more than $200 million that school districts would receive for transporting children to school, something local officials have requested for years.

An additional $104 million would fund security upgrades at schools.

The new spending comes even though state tax collections have been slow for the past year.

The state remains in good financial shape thanks to $16 billion in “rainy day” and undesignated reserves that piled up over the past three years, when the state saw large surpluses.

President Joe Biden could face a protest vote in Tuesday's Georgia Democratic primary from critics of his approach to the Israel-Hamas war who plan to cast blank ballots. (Pete Marovich/The New York Times)

Credit: NYT

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Credit: NYT

Biden’s chief opponent in Georgia primary could be blank

Georgia Democrats who want to pressure President Joe Biden to change his policies supporting Israel in its war with Hamas can’t cast ballots for “uncommitted” in the state’s primary the way more than 100,000 liberal voters did earlier this month in Michigan.

Their only option: nothing.

They can cast blank ballots.

Flyers are circulating among liberal and Muslim activists in Georgia stating: “Tell Biden, ceasefire now! Leave it blank on March 12.” Some encourage nonvoters to post a #leaveitblank hashtag.

Biden has been working to negotiate a cease-fire and has been critical of Israel’s handling of the conflict while still supporting the longtime ally.

But he’s also vulnerable to any type of division of Democratic ranks in Georgia after winning the state by the narrow margin of fewer than 12,000 votes in 2020.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock said he was proud of student protesters from the Atlanta University Center "for pushing us" on issues involving U.S. arming of Israel in its war with Hamas and their demands for a cease-fire. (Nathan Posner for the AJC).

Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

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Credit: Nathan Posner for the AJC

Students stage Israel-Hamas protest during Warnock sermon

Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock faced a protest over the Israel-Hamas war while working at his other job, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

The senator was delivering his sermon when about 20 activists who identified themselves on social media as students at Atlanta University Center schools, stood silently and removed their jackets to reveal shirts that said “cease fire now” on the front and “stop arming Israel” on the back. They then exited down the middle aisle without uttering a word.

Warnock has called for a negotiated cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Some liberals, however, have criticized the senator for backing additional aid to Israel and supporting President Joe Biden’s attempts to manage the conflict without alienating a U.S. ally.

The senator greeted the protest by praising the protesters.

He said this past week on the “Politically Georgia” podcast that “it doesn’t feel that long ago” since he was a student at Morehouse who participated in nonviolent protests.

“In a real sense,” Warnock said, “I was proud of the young people for pushing us on this issue.”

Bill passes, moving oversight panel for prosecutors closer to beginning its work

The Georgia House gave final approval to legislation that would allow a panel to begin its work overseeing the state’s prosecutors a year after it was created.

Senate Bill 332, which the House passed on a mostly party-line vote with Republicans in favor, is now in the hands of Gov. Brian Kemp, who supported the original measure to establish the Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission.

The commission hit a snag last year because the original legislation called for the state Supreme Court to approve the rules guiding the panel.

Ruling in a suit challenging the law, the Supreme Court said it had “grave doubts” about whether it had the constitutional authority to approve rules and standards of conduct for the commission.

Democrats say the commission is not needed because there already are ways to discipline prosecutors through the state bar, the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia and state voters.

PSC elections delayed indefinitely, affecting majority of panel

The secretary of state’s office has delayed indefinitely elections affecting a majority of the five members on the all-Republican Public Service Commission.

The elections were called off because the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals never finalized its November ruling that statewide PSC elections comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits racial discrimination in elections.

Until the case is resolved, a federal judge’s 2022 decision that at-large PSC elections illegally weaken Black Georgians’ voting strength remains in effect, preventing elections from being held under that structure.

The delay, which could push elections to 2025, affect Commissioners Tim Echols and Fitz Johnson — who would have faced reelection in 2022 if not for a previous delay — and Tricia Pridemore, who would have faced reelection this year.

Rate increases for electricity, including those associated with the expansion of the Vogtle nuclear plant near Augusta, are the impetus being a measure that would reopen the state's Consumers' Utility Counsel. The office, which shut down in the wake of the Great Recession, acted as an advocate for utility customers before the state's Public Service Commission. (Arvin Temkar /

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

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Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Utility rate increases power move to bring back consumer advocate

Rising electricity bills could bring back a state office that advocated for consumers until it was shut down during the Great Recession.

Senate Bill 457, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Chuck Hufstetler of Rome, would reopen the Consumers’ Utility Counsel to act on behalf of customers in cases before the Public Service Commission involving utility rates.

Since late 2022, the PSC has approved customer bill increases to pay for the cost of Plant Vogtle’s expansion — completed seven years behind schedule and $20 billion over budget — as well as for fuel burned at Georgia Power’s power plants, transmission upgrades and more. After Vogtle’s second new nuclear reactor enters service — likely between April and June — the average monthly bill for a Georgia Power customer will have climbed about $38 over roughly a year and a half. Another rate hike is set to kick in at the beginning of 2025.

Senate Republicans launch new effort targeting ‘sanctuary cities’

State Senate Republicans are pushing a new effort to allow residents to sue local governments they believe are not following immigration laws.

The move comes following the killing last month of 22-year-old nursing student Laken Riley in Athens. A Venezuelan national who authorities say was in the United States illegally has been charged in the slaying.

Language inserted as an amendment to House Bill 301 would cause a local government to lose all state funding and all state-administered federal funding if a superior court judge found it to be in violation of “the prohibition on immigration sanctuary policies.” The only exceptions would be money for emergencies, disaster relief or emergency health care.

Georgia law already restricts cities and counties from adopting a “sanctuary policy,” that gives safe harbor to people who are living in the country without legal permission.

In some parts of the state, such as Athens-Clarke County, officials keep people with outstanding warrants in jail, but they don’t hold those, including immigrants in the country illegally, if there are no other charges against them.

Critics opposed to Republican efforts to pass new immigration legislation have said the bills would put more burden on local law enforcement to take on federal immigration responsibilities, instead of allowing them more time to handle other needs in their communities.

Judge orders Catoosa GOP to stop keeping candidates off Republican ballot

Who’s to say what a Republican is?

The Catoosa County GOP seems to think it isn’t an individual choice.

Superior Court Judge Don Thompson issued an order this past week to block the Catoosa GOP from enforcing a new policy that gives party leaders the final say on whether candidates for county office can run as Republicans.

Local party officials have refused to abide by Thompson’s decision.

Catoosa GOP Chairwoman Joanna Hildreth said the policy was designed to ensure Republican candidates who “share our values” are on the ballot.

“Too often, voters are rightfully disappointed by candidates who run with ‘Republican’ by their name only to abandon the platform once elected, if they ever really supported it to begin with,” she said.

Thompson’s order came in a suit filed by several candidates, including two county commissioners and a former commissioner, who in the past week were denied a spot on the GOP primary ballot by party officials.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently notified the Georgia Environmental Protection Division that it opposes issuing a water permit for a mining operation that would extract titanium dioxide within 4 miles of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. The federal agency said that drawing as much as 1.4 million gallons of water a day from area groundwater supplies for the mine could harm the refuge and is therefore unlawful. (Charles Seabrook for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Charles Seabrook

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Credit: Charles Seabrook

Feds put water permit in doubt for Okefenokee mining project

The federal government has moved to block a water permit for a mine planned near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently notified the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, the permitting agency for the proposed mine, that drawing as much as 1.4 million gallons of water a day from area groundwater supplies could harm the refuge and is therefore unlawful.

The challenge is the latest involving plans by Alabama-based Twin Pines Minerals to open a mine less than 4 miles from the edge of the Okefenokee. State regulators issued draft permits last month for the project to extract titanium dioxide. Final permitting is set to begin in April.

Political expedience

  • Internet breakdown: Staffers at the General Assembly were unable to access its website on Monday and could not use the state’s internet for much of the day. The problems also prevented the livestreaming of any of the General Assembly’s committee hearings that afternoon. The Senate Press Office, though, said it would archive the meetings online.
  • Ads backing Trump focus on Black voters: MAGA Inc., a super PAC aligned with former President Donald Trump, is spending about $180,000 on airtime for radio ads focusing on Black voters. The ads were purchased to run in nine Georgia markets ahead of the state’s presidential primary on Tuesday.

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