Georgia Today: Michael Flynn in Atlanta, another EV battery plant, rising pregnancy-related deaths
LISTEN: On the Friday Dec. 9 episode of Georgia Today: Michael Flynn testifies in Atlanta, another EV battery plant is coming to Georgia, and pregnancy-related deaths are on the rise.
Peter Biello: Welcome to the new Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Friday, Dec. 9. I'm Peter Biello. Coming up on today's episode: Former national security adviser Michael Flynn testifies before a special grand jury in downtown Atlanta. Another electric vehicle battery plant is coming to Georgia. And pregnancy-related deaths are on the rise in the United States. We'll get a look at some simple virtual tools that are offering a solution. These stories and more are coming up on Georgia Today.
Peter Biello: Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was at a downtown Atlanta courthouse yesterday to testify before a special grand jury that's investigating whether then-President Donald Trump and others illegally tried to influence the 2020 election in Georgia. Flynn could be one of the final witnesses the panel hears from. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who's leading the investigation, has said she wants to wrap up the special grand jury soon. The grand jurors have already questioned a number of other high-profile Trump associates, including former New York mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Special grand juries in Georgia operate behind closed doors and are generally used to investigate complex cases with many witnesses. They can compel evidence and subpoena testimony from witnesses, but they cannot issue indictments. Once the investigation is complete, a special grand jury can recommend action, but it remains up to the district attorney to decide whether to then seek an indictment from a regular grand jury.
Peter Biello: Gov. Brian Kemp was reelected just under a month ago, but he has quickly pivoted to focus on his upcoming legislative agenda. Yesterday at the Capitol he announced more policy priorities. GPB's Riley Bunch has more.
Riley Bunch: Kemp has long blamed rising costs of groceries and gas on economic policies coming out of Washington, D.C., and touts his seven-time renewal of the gas tax suspension that's saved Georgians at the pump and extended that suspension again through January 10th. But he warned that this is intended as a, quote, "short-term answer" to solve inflation woes and announced a legislative focus on lowering property taxes for Peach State homeowners.
Gov. Brian Kemp: We are moving forward with other legislative priorities designed to help the people of our state fight through sky-high housing cost and the weight of too much government.
Riley Bunch: He's asking lawmakers to back $1 billion in property tax relief and $1 billion in income tax refunds. For GPB News, I'm Riley Bunch.
Peter Biello: Two Korean companies have announced plans to build a $4 billion to $5 billion electric vehicle battery plant in metro Atlanta's Bartow County. Hyundai Motor Group and SK On said that they expect the facility near Cartersville to employ about 3,500 people and begin production in 2025. It's the latest in a string of electric vehicle-related investments in Georgia. Before yesterday's announcement, state officials said that $17 billion in such investments promising 23,000 jobs had been announced since 2020.
Peter Biello: Pregnancy-related deaths are going up in the United States and most of them are preventable. Doctors say that's because new moms just aren't prioritized after pregnancy and that allows cardiac complications, the leading cause of death for new moms in Georgia, to go undetected. But more and more often, simple virtual tools are offering a solution. GPB's Sofi Gratas reports.
Sofi Gratas: Toni Ivey was two weeks postpartum when she started experiencing what were, unbeknownst to her at the time, classic symptoms of hypertension.
Toni Ivey: Because I just I couldn't sleep. I lay down and I could just feel my heartbeat through my head and I-I couldn't breathe.
Sofi Gratas: But Toni was lucky. Her friend is a cardiac rehab nurse and that friend, Sandy Wells, made sure Toni got to the hospital. Wells says what happened to Toni Ivey was part of a larger pattern she had seen over the last five years: New mothers kept ending up in the cardiac rehabilitation program at Liberty Regional Medical Center, a small hospital in Hinesville in Southeast Georgia, where Sandy Wells works.
Sandy Wells: And this was alarming to me because there was no reason behind why these young mothers were having such an issue.
Sofi Gratas: Wells says even now, she sees moms come in with fatal pregnancy-related heart conditions up to one year after they've given birth. So in 2019, Wells partnered with Director of Perinatal Services Heather Daniels to create a pipeline for high-risk postpartum moms into cardiac follow-ups. But for comprehensive and personalized care during the riskiest postpartum period, these new moms still needed an easier way to get in touch with their doctors, Danielle says.
Heather Daniels: So we started following and tracking moms and Moms Heart Matters was formed that day.
Sofi Gratas: Starting next year, a Web-based app will make remote monitoring pretty easy for the most at-risk postpartum patients enrolled in Moms Heart Matters. Some will receive Bluetooth enabled blood pressure cuffs, which will push readings to their phones.
Heather Daniels: They can be in the middle of nowhere and it will still dump to the app. And we can see in real time.
Sofi Gratas: Using cell data or Wi-Fi, those blood pressure readings get sent straight through the web-based app and to nurses like Heather Daniels. New moms who enroll in the program will also be able to chat directly with their providers and get text reminders tailored to their needs for up to six weeks postpartum.
Marlo Vernon: People think that finding solutions to these kinds of problems is complex and difficult. And sometimes the simplest answer is really the best option and the best approach.
Sofi Gratas: That's Marlo Vernon. She teaches at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. Through a partnership with the State Department of Public Health, she's also getting ready to test her own app for postpartum moms, Vita RPM. The Vita RPM algorithm will rely on blood pressure readings communicated via internet or text message to trigger immediate automatic responses. That could be a request for another reading, questions about symptoms or advice to visit the emergency room. Plus, moms who enroll in Vita RPM are taught to self-monitor their health through education modules.
Marlo Vernon: By empowering them with this knowledge, they'll be able to really advocate better for themselves and for other women that they know.
Sofi Gratas: Back in Hinesville, Toni Ivey says access to education has been life-changing.
Toni Ivey: I knew blood pressure and pregnancy was a thing. But I didn't know how big of a thing it was and gosh, it was — I could've had a heart attack and that's just something I don't want to think about.
Sofi Gratas: Ivey's son, Finn, turned one last month.
Toni Ivey: I got my baby. So.
Sofi Gratas: For GPB News, I'm Sofi Gratas in Hinesville.
Peter Biello: An 11-judge panel has opened the door for more drug offenders with modest criminal histories to avoid harsh mandatory minimum sentences in federal courts in three states, including Georgia. The ruling, issued Tuesday by a divided Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, hinged on the definition of a single common word: "And." GPB's Orlando Montoya has more.
Orlando Montoya: When Congress passed and then-President Donald Trump signed the 2018 First Step Act, it gave offenders a safety valve that allowed them to escape certain mandatory minimum sentences. Georgia State University law professor Karen Morrison says the law listed three conditions related to an offender's criminal history, joined by the word "and."
Karen Morrison: Basically, you're eligible for the safety valve unless you have too many criminal history points, plus a prior serious crime, plus a moderately serious crime, and that's what the meaning of "and" is.
Orlando Montoya: A divided Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday rejected prosecutors' definition of the word "and." The U.S. Supreme Court might revisit the case because other courts have sided with prosecutors defining the word "and" in this law to mean "or." For GPB News, I'm Orlando Montoya.
Peter Biello: And that's a wrap for today's edition of Georgia Today. We welcome your feedback. Send it to us by email. The address is GeorgiaToday@gpb.org. I'm Peter Biello. We'll be back with you on Monday.