On the Tuesday, Feb. 20 edition of Georgia Today: There is another delay in the case against a Savannah man charged in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection; it will soon be illegal to turn right on red in some parts of Atlanta; and we'll learn more about a push to replace electronic voting machines with hand-marked paper ballots for this year's general election. 

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Peter Biello: Welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Tuesday, Feb. 20. I'm Peter Biello. On today's episode, there is another delay in the case against a Savannah man charged in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection. It will soon be illegal to turn right on red in some parts of Atlanta. And we'll learn more about a push to replace electronic voting machines with hand-marked paper ballots for this year's general election. These stories and more are coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.




Story 1:

Peter Biello: U.S. and international law enforcement agencies said today they have disrupted a ransomware group that targeted thousands of victims. The group LockBit claimed responsibility for an attack that crippled computer systems for Fulton County's government a few weeks ago. Georgia Tech cyber security professor Peter Swire says today's announcement could help Fulton County.

Peter Swire: The FBI is saying that they can provide assistance with decrypting files, so it's possible, but not certain, that the FBI can help Fulton County unlock the files that were locked up by the ransomware gang.

Peter Biello: County officials say it's possible personal data was released in the attack.


Story 2:

Peter Biello: Federal prosecutors are weathering another delay in their case against a former Savannah car salesman charged in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection. GPB's Benjamin Payne reports.

Benjamin Payne: A D.C. federal judge is postponing a court date that had been set for this week in the case of Dominic Box. The 34-year-old has pleaded not guilty to charges of breaching the U.S. Capitol, when supporters of then-President Donald Trump violently sought to overturn Joe Biden's 2020 victory. The judge's postponement comes in response to Box's decision this month to drop his court-appointed attorney, who had been representing him since December 2022. Box is now going with a privately retained attorney who is new to the case. It's not clear how much taxpayer money was spent on the court-appointed attorney, or why Box made the change in counsel after more than a year into his case. Last year, he tentatively agreed to a plea deal offered by prosecutors. However, he has since withdrawn from the deal, citing a pending Supreme Court case that could set a legal precedent affecting his own. The next court date for Box is now set for Feb. 28. For GPB News, I'm Benjamin Payne.

Marjorie Taylor Greene

Marjorie Taylor Greene

Story 3:

Peter Biello: Rome congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and two other U.S. representatives have lost their appeal, challenging fines for not wearing face coverings on the House floor. The three Republicans had been fighting the $500 fine since they were issued in 2021. The mask requirement was part of the House's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Greene violated the rule and called the fine punishing her for it, quote, "arbitrary and capricious." Today, the Supreme Court rejected their appeals without comment.


Story 4:

Peter Biello: A student at Benjamin E. Mays High School in Atlanta, has been charged in the shooting at the school last week that injured four students. Atlanta Public Schools Police Chief Ronald Kaplan said Atlanta police have issued warrants for the studen/ts arrest. The student is not yet in custody. The student in question is a juvenile and his name is not being released. The student faces four charges of aggravated assault, one charge of possession of a firearm by a minor, and one charge of possession of a firearm on school grounds. The four students who were shot were all male. Three are 17 years old and one was 18 years old and are all reportedly recovering well.


Story 5:

Peter Biello: A Georgia state trooper was struck and killed by a vehicle today as he investigated an earlier crash on Interstate 75 south of Atlanta. The Georgia Department of Public Safety says Trooper First Class Chase Redner died at an Atlanta hospital after the crash in Clayton County. Redner had been employed by the department since September 2017. The agency says the crash remains under investigation.


Story 6:

Peter Biello: Atlanta City Council members have approved a measure to ban right turns on red in parts of the city in a 10 to 3 vote. GPB's Amanda Andrews has more.

Amanda Andrews: Turning right on red will be banned at intersections downtown, Midtown and in the Castleberry Hill neighborhood of Atlanta. City council members proposed a bill to decrease pedestrian deaths, especially in the city's most walkable areas. Councilmember Alex Wan opposed the bill. He says the red light measure is too narrow in scope.

Alex Wan: I feel like the conversation we should be having is doing it citywide, not piecemeal, and not in just certain sections of the city. Because if we do believe in it for part of the city, I think, you know, in terms of pedestrian safety, we should be protecting pedestrians everywhere.

Amanda Andrews: City Council is giving the Atlanta Department of Transportation until the end of 2025 to implement the changes. For GPB News, I'm Amanda Andrews.

Story 7:

Peter Biello: Georgia legislators are considering a bill that allows Georgia Power customers to buy electricity from third party providers of solar energy. House Bill 1152 allows customers to subscribe with community solar providers for projects producing up to six megawatts of power. Community solar projects are smaller than utility-scale solar, but larger than individual property owners. Rooftop panels. A subcommittee held a hearing on the bill yesterday. Solar industry supporters say the bill is pro jobs and an opportunity to lower customers' bills. Representatives of Georgia Power oppose the bill and say there isn't a shortage of opportunity for solar developers.


Story 8:

Peter Biello: Budget writers in the state Senate have approved a $37 billion mid-year budget that includes a $1,000 pay supplement for Georgia teachers, state workers and university system employees. The spending plan was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee today, and the full Senate is expected to take it up later this week. The budget contains $5 billion in new spending, taking advantage of an unprecedented $16 billion budget surplus. Besides the pay supplements, the spending includes more than $1 billion in capital projects. These include a new state prison in Washington County, a new dental school at Georgia Southern University's Armstrong campus in Savannah, and a new medical school at the University of Georgia in Athens.


Story 9:

Peter Biello: Property tax rates could drop in some Georgia school districts under a state House plan. The measure, approved today, would let districts with low property values continue to qualify for state aid, even if they decrease property tax rates. Representatives passed the bill overwhelmingly, sending it to the Senate for more debate. It's one in a series of measures that Georgia lawmakers are considering this year to reduce property tax bills.

Paper ballot

Paper ballot

Story 10

Peter Biello: New legislation in the Georgia House would make hand-marked paper ballots the primary way votes are counted in the state. Sponsors of the legislation say they want to inspire confidence in voters who may be wary of electronic voting machines. Recently, I spoke at the state Capitol with Rep. Sam Park, a Democrat from Gwinnett County. He co-sponsored the legislation.

Peter Biello: So this legislation advocates for, hand-marked ballots as the primary way voters cast their vote. Why? Why is that important?

Sam Park: So this is a continuation of a position that myself and Democratic colleagues had back in 2019, when we were having the big debate. Hand-marked paper ballots are the gold standard for election security and integrity, according to the National Academy of Engineering and Sciences. And so we believe that this is the most secure, most accessible way to conduct our elections and will help ensure voter confidence as we move forward.

Peter Biello: So from the voter's perspective, when they step into the voting booth, what's going to be different if this becomes law?

Sam Park: For the most part, the primary difference, if this law — if this bill became law, would be we would no longer have those electronic voting machines, which is why — which has generated a lot of concern, certainly on both sides of the aisle.

Peter Biello: The state has spent an enormous amount of money on those voting machines, millions and millions of dollars. And you're proposing do away with them.

Sam Park: I think there's always opportunities to improve our — the manner in which we conduct our elections. Back in 2019, when we first had this debate, we brought up the fact that these new voting machines would cost 2 or 3 times more, than hand-marked paper ballots, despite him mark paper ballots being more secure. And so as we proceed, yes, I think it would make sense for us to continue to see if we can't move toward a manner that is more secure and more cost-effective in the long run.

Peter Biello: Gabriel Sterling, the the chief operating officer of the Secretary of State, has argued that this is going to increase, printing costs for polling places by $15 million across the state. Is that a concern? The cost of making this switch?

Sam Park: My understanding is that, you know, already, the Legislature — we've passed legislation for these watermarked ballots. That may cost additional moneys as well. I think taking into consideration the overall cost of this new system of voting, if it moves forward, it would be more cost-effective for taxpayers.

Peter Biello: This bill is meant to increase confidence in elections, and a lot of the dip in confidence has to do, frankly, with stuff that's not true, right? Fake information about elections and the way they're conducted. If this is passed, how is that going to change the atmosphere, change the belief in what's true and what's not about elections?

Sam Park: So I think based on studies, and based on, again, a report from the National Academy of Sciences and Engineering, hand-marked paper ballots are the gold standard for election integrity. I think Democrats, Republicans, independents, everyone can lean in and trust the fact that this would be the most secure way in which we can conduct our elections.

Peter Biello: If if passed, this bill wouldn't take effect until the general election, correct? After Nov. 1.

Sam Park: Correct.

Peter Biello: Okay. There is or there was a bench trial arguments just wrapped up in the bench trial, over this whole cybersecurity issue, security of elections. The Coalition for Good Governance was arguing for paper ballots as this bill legislates. What happens if that bench trial comes out, in a way that's contrary to your legislation? In other words, how are these two things moving in parallel?

Sam Park: Well, we'll see how the court, decides to proceed on, the pending litigation. Either which way, there's bipartisan support, for us to move toward a more secure way of conducting our elections. And this legislation provides, a great model for what that would look like.

Peter Biello: There's bipartisan support, but is there enough? The Republican Kemp administration and the secretary of state's office seems to be opposed to this move.

Sam Park: Certainly. You know, Gov. Kemp voted or decided to go with these electronic machines back in 2019. I think they've indicated that, you know, they'll continue to use this, utilize the existing system. But when I say bipartisan support, I mean with voters. Earlier this year, there was a lot of support from Republican voters for hand-marked paper ballots, just like there remains a lot of support, with Democrats to ensure, again, we are using the most secure way of conducting our elections, especially as we — we are likely to have competitive elections for the foreseeable future.

Peter Biello: And that's the bell calling you into the chamber. Rep. Sam Park, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it.

Sam Park: Thanks for having me.


Peter Biello: And that is it for this edition of Georgia Today. If you want to learn more about any of these stories, visit gpb.org/news. And if you haven't yet subscribed to this podcast, do it now. We'll be back in your podcast feed tomorrow afternoon. And if you've got feedback or a story idea, send it our way by email. The address is GeorgiaToday@GPB.org. I'm Peter Biello. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.


For more on these stories and more, go to GPB.org/news

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