The Jolt: The Rivian bill that’s stalled at the Georgia Legislature

News and information from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Although we usually write about bills passing the House and Senate, the news out of the General Assembly since Crossover Day has been more about the bills that haven’t passed.

High on the list of what hasn’t happened this year is SB 398, a bill to allow companies like Rivian to sell electric vehicles directly to consumers. Our James Salzer has written extensively about what’s in that legislation and the background behind it.

Although Tesla already skips local car dealers to sell to buyers in Georgia, EV car and truck maker Rivian would need a special carve-out in Georgia law to do the same.

If you assumed Rivian inked its deal this year to build its $5 billion plant east of Atlanta with a guarantee that it could quickly sell its own cars direct to consumers in the state, it appears you assumed wrong. SB 398 never had a committee hearing after it was introduced and was not considered by either chamber before the all-important Crossover Day.

Standing in the way of the effort have been the politically powerful Georgia car dealers around the state and their lobby. It’s also worth noting that Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, one of the highest ranking members of the Legislature, is a car dealer.

Gov. Brian Kemp, who announced the Rivian deal with fanfare in January flanked by lawmakers, hasn’t been out front pushing the bill. His office said the governor worked to facilitate conversations about legislation, but since it never got rolling, he “was never in a position to take a position” on it.

Making the stalled effort all the more noteworthy is a North Carolina-based Triangle Business Journal report, with documents showing that one reason Rivian picked Georgia over North Carolina for its operations was the Tar Heel state’s similar prohibition on direct-to-consumer car sales there. More:

“The announcement that Georgia landed the project came after Rivian spent months ghosting North Carolina officials. Georgia and North Carolina are often major competitors for economic development projects. It seems that the state’s loss came down to a collision of state politics and market forces.

North Carolina has a law that prohibits automobile manufacturers — except for Tesla — from selling directly to customers or servicing vehicles. Rivian expected the bill to pass, but it never materialized.”

State Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah and the sponsor of the bill, said this morning there is no update on any legislative movement. We always say that no bill is truly dead until Sine Die, but time to jump start the Rivian effort this year is running short.

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UNDER THE GOLD DOME, Wednesday, March 23:

  • 8:00 a.m.: An early start for many lawmakers, with four committees meeting;
  • 10:00 a.m.: The House gavels in;
  • 10:00 a.m.: The Senate convenes.

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On Tuesday at the Capitol:

  • Senators passed a resolution, gave a standing ovation, and even shed a few tears for retiring state Sen. Jeff Mullis, the chairman of the powerful Rules Committee and 21-year veteran of the chamber. Although many offered praise, this from state Sen. Lester Jackson, a Savannah Democrat, stood out: “Jeff has been a friend to everyone in this chamber. He has been fair to everyone in this chamber.”
  • The state Senate passed HB 385 to allow retired teachers to return to the classroom in high-need areas and continue to receive retirement benefits at the same time;
  • Retiring state Rep. Tom Kirby also gave his farewell speech to the House, with this excellent piece of advice: “The next time you think you’re all that and a bag of chips, think about all the people in your district who did not vote for you and ask what you’re doing to represent them.”

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Another high-profile bill that hit a speed bump this week has been HB 1013, the Mental Health Parity Act from Speaker David Ralston.

The bill is before the state Senate health committee, which has already passed several smaller bills related to mental health and could incorporate that thinking into a final package.

At the same time, a coordinated, far-right campaign against the bill has been inundating senators with form emails that include misinformation about it. Stay tuned for more reporting on whether the effort against the Speaker’s bill is a distraction, a delay, or more.

This happens against the backdrop of Georgia’s last-in-the-nation ranking last year for access to mental health services and a rapidly approaching primary for Ds and Rs alike.

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The policy questions on GOP primary ballots often double as guideposts for the issues Georgia Republicans will push in the future. The latest round of questions might only continue that trend.

Among the non-binding issues on the May 24 ballot, unveiled this week by GOP chair David Shafer, are queries about immigration, school vouchers and transgender athletes.

But it’s the last three of the eight queries that really caught our eye. One pushes voters to toughen penalties against “ballot tampering,” a fascination of pro-Donald Trump allies who spread falsehoods about Georgia’s 2020 vote.

Another steers Republicans to vote to ban absentee ballot drop boxes, which is already at the center of a legislative proposal by Senate GOP leader Butch Miller that could be a late addition to a pending election proposal.

The third opens by invoking “dramatically” rising crime rates before asking whether Buckhead residents should vote to “create their own city governments and police departments.”

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We have a special “Flipped” edition of the Politically Georgia podcast this week, with a behind-the-scenes look at how our Jolter, Greg Bluestein, landed a deal to published his new book, “Flipped.”

We also get into the process of going from an idea to a book, all the candidates and players Greg interviewed and a sneak peek at some of the stories he covered.

Listen below or at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or Stitcher.

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POSTED: Ahead of Donald Trump’s visit to Georgia to rally Saturday, Greg Bluestein has a piece up this morning about Trump’s intensifying focus on Georgia and his vendetta against Gov. Brian Kemp.

It has now resulted in Trump recruiting an entire GOP slate to challenge sitting Republicans in Georgia.

The latest addition to the slate is John Gordon, 69, an Atlanta businessman who renewed his expired law license last year to help challenge the Georgia election results after the 2020 election. Gordon is running against Attorney General Chris Carr.

One fun fact in the piece-- David Perdue is living in Gordon’s Georgia beach house* while his own new coastal home is under construction. (*An earlier version of the Jolt should not have specified where Gordon’s home is.) Perdue’s advisers said he played no role in getting Trump to endorse Gordon.

Gordon was a guest on Martha Zoller’s WDUN radio show Tuesday and explained why he is running to unseat Carr: “There is no question in my mind that Donald Trump won Georgia.” You can hear the entire interview at WDUN.

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Credit: Charlie Neibergall / AP

Credit: Charlie Neibergall / AP

Speaking of endorsements, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich backed David Perdue’s bid to unseat Gov. Brian Kemp. In his endorsement Wednesday, Gingrich called Perdue a lifelong job creator whose “natural instinct is to solve problems and bring people together.”

“I firmly believe David Perdue is the only candidate who can unite the Republican Party, defeat Abrams, and help Georgia avoid Critical Race Theory indoctrination, higher taxes, and bigger bureaucracy,” said Gingrich.

Gingrich, once an ally of Kemp, will be on the campaign trail with Perdue next week.

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The U.S. Senate confirmed Victoria Calvert to an Atlanta-based federal judgeship Tuesday night, making her just the second Black woman appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. She is also the first former federal defense attorney to serve in this role.

Calvert’s confirmation also marks the first judgeship facilitated by Georgia Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. They could see a floor vote on their second nominee, former civil rights attorney Sarah Geraghty, as soon as today.

The final tally for Calvert was 50-46, including the support of every Democrat who voted and three Republicans: South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski.

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Georgia U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop said he will redirect campaign contributions he received from Koch Industries after the company drew criticism for refusing to pull out of Russia.

Bishop, an Albany Democrat, was among the two dozen-plus lawmakers who shared in $110,000 donated to their campaigns by Koch Industries in the weeks prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to CNBC. While many American companies have paused operations in Russia since the attack, Koch continues to operate two glass manufacturing facilities.

When CNBC reached out to the lawmakers who had received campaign contributions, Bishop’s office was among most whom CNBC said did not respond immediately.

After the article was published, Bishop’s camp told CNBC that said he will not accept contributions from Koch Industries as long as the company continues to operate in Russia. Additionally, he will donate the $2,500 he received from them to a charity providing aid to Ukrainians.

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In endorsement news:

  • Republican U.S. Rep. Pat Fallon of Texas is backing Rich McCormick in the 6th Congressional District.
  • U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux was endorsed by Vote Mama, a political committee that supports Democratic mothers running for office, in Georgia’s 7th District.

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Speaking of Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, she’ll have her second annual jobs fair today from 1:00 to 4:00 at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds.

The congresswoman’s staff expect more than 60 businesses to participate, with more than 2,600 available jobs. Amazon, Northside Hospital and Kia are a few names you’d recognize. She held a similar fair last year.

Details about what you’ll need today are available on Bourdeaux’s website.

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We have to give a Jolt shout out to Habitat for Humanity after hearing the news that McKenzie Scott, the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, will give $436 million to the nonprofit home builder.

The AJC’s Shelia Poole reports that the gift is unrestricted and will be spread across Habitat’s Atlanta headquarters and many affiliates.

An earlier version of the Jolt should have noted that Habitat was founded by Millard and Linda Fuller, and supported by former President Jimmy Carter.

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As always, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.

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