On the Thursday Feb. 2 edition of Georgia Today: Sports betting may come to Georgia, the House approves the budget, and the 'Cop City' neighbors...what do they think?

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Peter Biello: Welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Thursday, Feb. 2, Groundhog Day. And I'm Peter Biello. On today's episode, the Georgia House approves its budget proposal. We'll tell you what's in it. Lawmakers are also once again pressing for legalized sports betting in the state. What are the odds of passage? And we'll hear what people who live near the site of the planned police training facility dubbed "Cop City" have to say about the project. These stories and more are coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.



Story 1

Peter Biello: The Georgia House approved its proposal for the amended state budget that runs through June 30. It includes $1 billion in one-time property tax relief. GPB's Stephen Fowler has the story.

Stephen Fowler: Georgia saw a record-setting surplus of $6.6 billion at the end of last year. Lawmakers put some of that into a modified spending plan that's an 8% increase from what was originally passed last year. Appropriations Chairman Matt Hatchett.

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Matt Hatchett: This is the second year in a row the state has experienced tremendous growth in this amended budget. Our state has a long history of conservative fiscal management and this year is no exception.

Stephen Fowler: The biggest thing in this amended budget is $1 billion in one-time homeowner property tax relief that takes the form of a $20,000 homestead exemption. The $32.6 billion amended budget now heads to the Senate. Next year's budget is still being worked on. For GPB News, I'm Stephen Fowler.


Story 2

Peter Biello: Georgia lawmakers also are trying to once again legalize online sports betting. Senate Bill 57 is the first of what could be several gambling bills considered during this legislative session. The bill would allow Georgia residents to place sports bets on their phones, tablets and licensed machines. The revenue through betting, licensing and taxes on winnings would be used for educational purposes. Critics of gambling often point to crime as one of the reasons they're against it. Sen. Billy Hickman of Statesboro, the bill's sponsor, told GPB's Lawmakers Georgians are already betting on sports and legalizing it would help with oversight.

Billy Hickman: And it'd be regulated. You can put the, put the stops in place to to reduce the crime, reduce the other forms of of of illegal stuff. Right now it's wide open. There is no regulations on anything that's going on.

Peter Biello: After several gambling bills failed in recent years, Hickman says he is, quote, "cautiously optimistic."


State Sen. John Albers speaks on Senate Bill 11 on the Senate floor

State Sen. John Albers speaks on Senate Bill 11 on the Senate floor in 2023.

Credit: Screenshot

Story 3

Peter Biello: The Georgia Senate yesterday passed its first bill of this legislative session. Senate Bill 11 called the Georgia Fights Terrorism Act, would allow the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate terrorism cases independently instead of only at the request of government agencies or officials, as is typically the case. Senator John Albers of Roswell is the bill's chief sponsor.

John Albers: This bill simply allows the Georgia Bureau of Investigation the ability to proactively, either independently or with our other agencies, both local and federal, to go after and investigate crimes relating to terrorism, nuclear, biological, chemical, cyber and domestic.

Peter Biello: The bill would allow the GBI to open these investigations if the agency's director finds that opening them "would not compromise the successful completion of cases." The bill passed 49 to 3. It will now go to the state House of Representatives.


Rivian SUV

CTAE Director Barbara Wall said in addition to creating the EV career pathway in Georgia high schools, the department is considering ways to provide early exposure to the careers Rivian offers to elementary and middle school students.

Credit: Rivian via Facebook

Story 4

Peter Biello: A group of residents living near the planned site of a $5 billion Rivian electric vehicle manufacturing plant east of Atlanta has filed two new lawsuits aimed at stopping the project. Their attorney, John Christy, says the lawsuits are aimed at getting the state to comply with local zoning standards.

John Christy: They feel very strongly about the action of the state in basically trying to override the interests of the local community and try to say that the state as the sovereign is superior to everyone in all instances and can pretty much do what it wants to do.

Peter Biello: The move comes almost two months after the group withdrew a lawsuit following a ruling against them. State officials called Rivian Georgia's single largest economic development project. The company promises to bring more than 7,000 jobs to the area.


Story 5

Peter Biello: We've heard a lot from politicians on the subject of the controversial Public Safety Training center to be built in DeKalb County's South River Forest. Environmental and anti-police activists have dubbed it "Cop City," but we haven't heard as much from the people who've actually called the area home for decades. GPB's Amanda Andrews has more on their perspective.

Amanda Andrews: First off, there's already a police training facility in the neighborhood: a firing range. But even though Chelsea Goolsby has lived here most of her life, she didn't know that.

Chelsea Goolsby: I hear gunshots all the time and I always call them.

Amanda Andrews: By them, she means the police.

Chelsea Goolsby: Because I call, every time I hear I call 911 and they just never thought, they just — it's like nothing. A big deal.

Amanda Andrews: Maybe not a big deal to the police. But Goolsby says the firing range sounds plus sounds from big trucks on Bouldercrest Road and from the fire department — they do have an impact.

Chelsea Goolsby: You know, you hear that noise; it's never no noise. And with there being a school here? The kids have to get some sleep.

Amanda Andrews: The police presence near Chelsea Goolsby's neighborhood could grow exponentially. What's planned is a public safety training center rivaling the size of Piedmont Park with amenities like a simulated city where officers can practice riot control and a closed driving course for emergency vehicle training. Angela Burgess Wilson says she hasn't seen that kind of investment in the 40-plus years she's lived here. She says she would spend the money differently.

Angela Burgess Wilson: I will put in different things that are more conducive for the people that live in this area.

Amanda Andrews: Like a grocery store, for starters.

Angela Burgess Wilson: There's not a Kroger or Publix nearby here any place. So I would ask the neighbors if they would like to have one of those stores.

Amanda Andrews: Betty Goolsby is Chelsey Goolsby's grandmother. She'd like better food options, too.

Betty Goolsby: We need stores and stuff, you know, like in other neighborhoods and stuff and how they have those eating places you can go out. We want to feel comfortable, safe.

Amanda Andrews: Back in 2017, there was a plan by the city to make this area more comfortable and appealing for residents. Margaret Spaulding worked with then-Mayor Kasim Reed on the vision.

Margaret Spaulding: And then just such a resource for such a report plan. It would be the concept was like this emerald necklace of connected green spaces.

Amanda Andrews: Meanwhile, city leaders became anxious to address a steep drop in the number of police officers in 2021 under Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. The emerald necklace plan shifted to the training facility, which they hoped would encourage officers to stay in Atlanta. The training center site itself is in Atlanta, just outside City Council district lines and in unincorporated DeKalb County. So Angela Burgess Wilson and her neighbors have no one to call at City Hall. Even if...

Angela Burgess Wilson: We got to pay for it. So if I got to pay for it, I think I should have the right to vote for it or not. And I'd vote against it.

Amanda Andrews: She's not alone. Before the project was approved in September 2021, City Council heard 17 hours of public comments largely opposed to the development and in favor of preserving the site as greenspace. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens says he's listened to the public.

Andre Dickens: This announcement we're making today is due in large part to the extensive input from the community that we — that we received over the last year, year plus through the Community Stakeholder Advisory Committee.

Amanda Andrews: That's Dickens. During a recent press conference announcing the project secured crucial permits from DeKalb County. The stakeholder committee was not without its problems. Members attempted to oust an environmental engineer for raising concerns about environmental studies on the site. At the press conference, Dickens tried to appease critics by saying most of the property around the Public Safety Training Center will remain greenspace, even if it will still mean a new firing range in the area. Meanwhile, protesters who weren't allowed inside the press conference vowed to continue fighting the project altogether. For GPB News, I'm Amanda Andrews.


Story 6

Peter Biello: The University of Georgia football player who survived the car wreck that killed one of his teammates and a football recruiting staffer has spoken publicly for the first time since the fatal crash. Warren McClendon made brief comments after a practice in Alabama Tuesday in advance of the Senior Bowl there on Saturday. The offensive lineman said he was seeing a psychiatrist doing better and doesn't remember much about the wreck that killed teammate Devin Willock and recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy.




Story 7

A new documentary film about Little Richard, the Macon-born architect of rock 'n' roll, recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and will soon be coming to the small screen.

Little Richard (singing): Wop bop a loo bom a lop bom bom

Peter Biello: Little Richard: I Am Everything explores his life and career and the path he forged for generations of entertainers. The film is described in promotional material as one that, quote, "explodes the whitewashed canon of American pop music, shining a clarifying light on the black queer origins of rock and roll, establishing the genre's Big Bang: Richard Wayne Penniman. The documentary about Penniman, who died in 2020 at the age of 87, features interviews with Paul McCartney, Nile Rodgers and Mick Jagger, among others, as well as accounts from people closest to him. Lisa Cortez, the film's director, described him as a bold, beautiful and gender non-conforming performer who paved the way for future artists. Little Richard: I Am Everything is expected to be broadcast on CNN and streamed on HBO Max.


In this final note, the North may have Punxsutawney Phil, but Georgia's got its own weather-predicting groundhog. Jackson's General Beauregard Lee, who we would be remiss if we did not report, didn't see his shadow this morning. That means we've got an early spring in store for us. This is not news to those of you who live in Savannah, where the highs reached the low 80s yesterday. For what it's worth, Punxsutawney Phil did see his shadow. So the North has got six more weeks of winter.

And that is it for this Groundhog Day edition of Georgia Today. Remember, don't drive angry and subscribe to this podcast. It is the best way to ensure you will get a new episode in your feed tomorrow. That is assuming tomorrow isn't also Groundhog Day. You never know. If you've got feedback, we'd love to hear it. Email us at GeorgiaToday@GPB.org. I'm Peter Biello. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.