On the Friday Feb. 24 edition of Georgia Today: Cigarette and tobacco tax could go up; Mercer & CHOA are helping to fund rural pediatricians; and Savannah is getting a board game

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Peter Biello: Welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Friday, Feb. 24. I'm Peter Biello. On today's episode, Georgia may soon raise taxes on cigarets and tobacco products. Mercer and Children's Health Care of Atlanta are helping to provide more pediatricians in rural areas. And are you ready for Savannah, the board game? These stories and more are coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.


Story 1

Peter Biello: The Senate committee in charge of hearing voting bills discussed several measures today. As GPB Stephen Fowler reports, some of the proposals reflect conspiracy theories that arose after the 2020 election.

Stephen Fowler: The 2022 elections were run smoothly, with high turnout and few noticeable issues, as Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Max Burns pointed out.

Max Burns: I want to acknowledge we had the most successful elections — in my memory, anyway — in 2022. We have seen testimony from third parties that indicate that the confidence level is very high.

Stephen Fowler: But still, some Republican lawmakers want to make several changes to election law based on dubious claims made by people who didn't trust the 2020 election. One bill would require scanners to count the printed text on a ballot instead of the QR code containing the voter's choices. But Georgia's current election system does not currently have that capability. The next committee meeting is Monday. For GPB News, I'm Stephen Fowler.


Story 2

Peter Biello: Georgia's tax on tobacco has not increased since Sonny Perdue was governor 20 years ago, but now state lawmakers could change that. GPB's Ellen Eldridge reports.

Ellen Eldridge: Georgia has one of the lowest prices on cigarettes in the nation. That's because the state's tobacco tax is only $0.37 a pack. A new bill would raise it to $0.57. And the average tax in the U.S. is nearly $2. Advocates of House Bill 191 argue higher taxes will reduce the number of smokers and save on health care costs. It sponsor Representative Ron Stephens says smokers inevitably get sick and it shouldn't be up to nonsmokers to foot the bill.

Ron Stephens: This is a user fee for Medicaid, if you will. This is probably the best way to explain it. There's no way to charge a user fee except on an excise tax.

Ellen Eldridge: Opponents of the tax argue the state will lose money in sales tax if smokers buy their tobacco across state lines. For GPB News, I'm Ellen Eldridge.


Story 3

Peter Biello: Three former Washington County sheriff's deputies whose murder trial ended in a hung jury in 2021 will be tried again. GPB's Grant Blankenship explains.

Grant Blankenship: Someone called the police when Eurie Lee Martin asked for water in the summer of 2017 in rural Washington County. Rhett Scott, Henry Lee Copeland, and Michael Howell, who are white, were the deputies who then encountered Martin, a middle-aged Black man with a history of mental illness. They would go on to Tase him for a total of a minute and a half while trying to get him to comply with their commands. He died at the scene. Prosecutors called that murder, but the trial held in the county seat of Centreville, which included a juror who was a cousin of one defendant, ended without a verdict. Now, prosecutors in the Chattahoochee Judicial District, centered in Columbus, will retry the case. The time needed to get up to speed on the long history of the case means it could still be months before the men accused of murdering Eurie Martin are again in court. For GPB News, I'm Grant Blankenship in Macon.


American Eagle: asset-mezzanine-16x9

Story 4

Peter Biello: State and federal game wardens are investigating the shooting death of a bald eagle in South Georgia's Irwin County. Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Law enforcement officials say a wildlife rehabilitator found one of the protected national birds last month. It had been shot with buckshot and had to be euthanized. Federal law protects bald eagles. Shooting one could trigger a $100,000 fine. The state agency in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are seeking information about the incident.


Story 5

Peter Biello: Children's Healthcare of Atlanta is committing $200 million to better train rural pediatricians and incentivize medical students to practice in underserved parts of the state. GPB's Sofi Gratas reports.

Sofi Gratas: Starting this year, the long-term funding from children's health care will pay back tuition for 10 students from the Mercer University School of Medicine who commit to rural pediatric practice after graduation. Baylee Bruton is a fourth-year medical student at Mercer.

Baylee Bruton: So having a scholarship that could help us feel more comfortable going to a rural area and like having — being able to pay back our loans is like a huge plus.

Sofi Gratas: Part of the $200 million will also fund specialized training and equipment for eight rural emergency hospitals and support to five practicing rural pediatricians. Children's Healthcare is the largest pediatric care provider in Georgia. According to CEO Donna Hyland, last year they treated over 32,000 children from rural counties. For GPB News, Sofi Gratas in Macon.



Story 6

Peter Biello: Georgia senators are approving amendments to the current year state budget that sets the stage for final negotiations with the House. The Senate voted 54-1 yesterday to approve House Bill 18. It includes $2.4 billion in additional spending. That's after Gov. Brian Kemp raised projected revenue. The spending plan would include $1 billion to give property tax rebates to homeowners and would divert $1.1 billion in state revenue to the Department of Transportation to make up for fuel tax revenue the state didn't collect during the gas tax suspension.


In this screenshot taken from Camden County Detention Center surveillance video provided by attorney Harry Daniels, jailers beat detainee Jarrett Hobbs at the facility, in Georgia, on Sept. 3, 2022.

In this screenshot taken from Camden County Detention Center surveillance video provided by attorney Harry Daniels, jailers beat detainee Jarrett Hobbs at the facility, in Georgia, on Sept. 3, 2022.

Credit: Camden County Detention Center/Courtesy of Attorney Harry Daniels via AP

Story 7

Peter Biello: Prosecutors have dropped charges against a Georgia jail detainee after security camera video showed him being beaten by deputies. A court filing Tuesday shows prosecutors dismissed charges of assault, obstruction and other counts brought against Jared Hobbs immediately after he was beaten. Drug and traffic violation charges that led to him being booked into jail also were dismissed. The video of the Sept. 3 beating was released in November. A week after the video's release, three Camden County sheriff's deputies were arrested on charges of battery and they were fired.


Story 8

Peter Biello: Metro Atlanta has the nation's third-highest market share of investor home purchases. That's according to a fourth quarter of 2022 housing report from brokerage firm Redfin. The report says one quarter of homes purchased in the region are for investors, something Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Brian Eason says inflates the prices for buyers looking for a place to live.

Brian Eason: We had one realtor who said, "look, they go over. They go after every house listed at under $500,000." immediate multiple bids, sometimes 10, 20 bids from from investors. And that's what homebuyers are facing in the market right now.

Peter Biello: Eason was speaking on GPB's Political Rewind. Home purchases are down to 25%, from 36% in the fourth quarter of 2021.


After closing its doors November 2022, the Tara theater is under new ownership and on track to reopen.

After closing its doors November 2022, the Tara theater is under new ownership and on track to reopen.

Credit: Tara Theatre

Story 9

Peter Biello: After closing its doors last November, Atlanta's historic Tara Theater is coming back. GPB's Amanda Andrews reports the historic venue is scheduled to open this spring.

Amanda Andrews: The Tara first opened in 1968. And when it reopens, it'll be back under local control following the closure by Regal Cinemas. Christopher Escobar, who also owns the Plaza Theater, is the Tara's new owner and executive director of the Atlanta Film Society. He says the theater has a rich history of showing independent films.

Christopher Escobar: The Tara became the place where people saw movies that were different. It was the place where Atlanta was first introduced to Star Wars.

Amanda Andrews: Escobar says they're currently trying to raise $50,000 to support the theater before doors open in the spring. For GPB News, I'm Amanda Andrews.



Story 10

Peter Biello: And Savannah is getting its own Monopoly game. A licensee for Monopoly owner Hasbro said this week that it's created a Savannah-themed edition, the first for a Georgia city.


Atlanta Braves cap
Credit: File photo

Story 11

Peter Biello: And the Atlanta Braves have chosen a Bethlehem, Ga., man from a pool of nearly 500 applicants to be the new voice of the Braves. Braves pitcher Spencer Strider told him the good news by a Zoom announcement.

Spencer Strider: Now announcing for your Atlanta Braves. Kevin Kraus.

Peter Biello: Kraus has served as the P.A. announcer for the Braves Triple-A affiliate the Gwinnett Stripers for the last ten years. He's also worked recently as the voice of Rugby ATL, Atlanta's major league rugby team. He spoke with Braves radio network announcer Ben Ingram in a video provided by the Braves.

Ben Ingram: You did it, man. Congratulations. How does it feel?

Kevin Kraus: Thank you so much. You're going to make me ugly cry in my office.

Peter Biello: The search for the new Braves announcer began in October of last year and included online and in-person auditions. Here's part of Kraus's audition.

Kevin Kraus: Batting sixth and catching: No. 16, Travis D'arnaud.

Peter Biello: You just got to appreciate how he leans into that. Last week, Braves fans voted for their favorite, which counted as one of eight total votes on the Braves selection committee. Krauss's first game behind the microphone will be the Braves home opener on April 6th. And by the way, baseball fans, spring training games begin tomorrow as the Braves face the Red Sox, and that's followed by a game against the Yankees on Sunday.


And that is it for this edition of Georgia Today. We appreciate you listening. We hope that you will subscribe. If you ever feel like you need to catch up on the news, too, you can always scroll back to past episodes. That'll help put today's news in context for you. Subscribe to us so we'll be with you on Monday and also leave a review, if you like what you're hearing — that helps other people find this podcast. We take your feedback as well. The best way to send it is by email. The address is GeorgiaToday@GPB.org. We really do read those emails, so do send them along.

And this final note, we are following the condition of former President Jimmy Carter. He's been in hospice care in Plains, Ga., since last weekend. And we will bring you any updates on his condition when we learn it. Stay tuned to GPB on the air, online at GPB.org, and through this podcast. I'm Peter Biello. Thank you again for listening and have a great weekend.


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