LISTEN: On the Wednesday, March 20 edition of Georgia Today: Vigils are planned across Georgia as the state's first execution in four years is scheduled for tonight; Atlanta Public schools partner with the Trust for Public Land to open new parks; and Savannah gets a funding boost to help reduce fossil fuel reliance.

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Peter Biello: Welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Wednesday, March 20. I'm Peter Biello. On today's episode, vigils are planned across Georgia, as the state's first execution in four years is scheduled for tonight. Atlanta Public Schools partnered with the trust for Public Land to open new parks, and Savannah gets a funding boost to help reduce fossil fuel reliance. These stories and more are coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.


Story 1:

Peter Biello: Vigils are planned in at least a dozen cities across the state tonight for Georgia's first scheduled execution in four years. Willie James Pye is set to die by lethal injection at 7 p.m. for killing his former girlfriend, Alicia Yarborough, three decades ago. Kathy Harmon Christian of Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, is asking churches to toll their bells at 7 p.m.

Kathy Harmon Christian: He has family that loved him. He has a heartbeat. He has not given up his right to life. And so we stand in solidarity and in witness, in opposition to the state's decision to kill one of our fellow citizens.

Peter Biello: Death penalty opponents are expected to gather in front of the prison in Jackson, where the execution is to take place.


Story 2:

Peter Biello: Gov. Brian Kemp's plan for a conservative alternative to Medicaid expansion has cost taxpayers at least $26 million so far, with more than 90% going toward administrative and consulting costs rather than medical care for low-income people. About 3,500 Georgians have signed up for the program since it began in July, a small fraction of those who could enroll if the state expanded Medicaid, as have all but 10 states. A spokesman for Kemp says the governor remains committed to his approach, called Georgia Pathways. The program offers government health insurance to people earning up to the federal poverty level, about $15,000 for an individual adult — if they can document that they're working in school or performing other qualifying activities. Joan Alker, the executive director and co-founder of Georgetown University's Center for Children and Families, calls the program "fiscally foolish" and "anti-family." She noted that full time caregiving does not qualify someone for eligibility into the program. The director of policy and research at the conservative Georgia Public Policy Foundation said the low enrollment numbers are, quote, "just part of the ramping up."


Story 3:

Peter Biello: Meanwhile, Georgians who have health care coverage through their employers are paying some of the highest premiums in the country. A Forbes magazine report released on Monday ranks Georgia the nation's eighth most expensive state for health care costs. The average annual premium for employees with single coverage through employer provided health insurance was about $1,600, with an average annual deductible of about $2,100.

Fossil fuels

Fossil fuels

Story 4:

Peter Biello: Bloomberg Philanthropies has selected Savannah among 25 cities nationwide for a new program aimed at reducing reliance on fossil fuels. Benjamin Payne reports.

Benjamin Payne: The charity, founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will send Savannah a team of experts in design, data analysis and project management. It's part of a new $200 million initiative from the philanthropy to help cities meet their sustainability goals. In Savannah, that means trying to achieve 100% renewable electricity consumption by 2035. Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Mayor Van Johnson said the city worked hard to be chosen for the program.

Van Johnson: We're serious when we say that we're going to be a city where safe, green and renewable energy transforms economic opportunity for all residents. All residents. We're not going to leave anyone behind.

Benjamin Payne: Atlanta is the only other municipality in Georgia selected by Bloomberg Philanthropies for the new sustainability initiative. For GPB News, I'm Benjamin Payne in Savannah.


Story 5:

Peter Biello: JetBlue Airways said yesterday it's ending flights between Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale in June. It's part of a larger reduction of services for the New York-based airline, which includes pulling out of four cities and cutting back on flights to and from Los Angeles and Fort Lauderdale. The move comes after a partnership with American Airlines and a merger with Spirit Airlines was rejected by federal judges.


Story 6:

Peter Biello: The president of Georgia Southwestern State University in Americus has been named president at Stephen F. Austin University in Texas. President Neil Weaver has served GSW for nearly seven years. Both universities announced the move after it became official with a vote by the University System of Texas on Monday. Weaver's last day at Georgia Southwestern will be on May 10, which coincides with commencement.


Story 7:

Peter Biello: Atlanta Public Schools are partnering with the trust for Public Land to open new parks. GPB's Amanda Andrews attended one of the ribbon-cuttings.

Amanda Andrews: The new community schoolyard at Luther J. Price Middle School in southeast Atlanta includes gym equipment, raised garden beds and a covered shelter. This is one of four school parks that will be open to the public during non-school hours. Sixth grade teacher William Oliver says this park will help students appreciate the world around them.

William Oliver: One of the most exciting aspects of this park is potential outdoor classroom. Here, children will have opportunity to explore the wonders of nature and learn about the environment as well as expound on their already learning taking place.

Amanda Andrews: Other school parks include Scott and Harper-Archer Elementary and Centennial Academy. For GPB News, I'm Amanda Andrews.



Story 8:

Peter Biello: The Atlanta nonprofit Bard Business Foundation helps formerly incarcerated people and is now suing Fulton County DA Fani Willis for allegedly failing to inform a judge when someone is held in jail on felony charges without being indicted for longer than 45 days. A report last year by the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, found at one point, more than a third of people at Fulton County Jail fit that description. Julian Clark is an attorney with the ACLU, which, along with the ACLU of Georgia, is helping the nonprofit in its lawsuit.

Julian Clark: Thank you. Peter.

Peter Biello: So your study found last year that hundreds of people are waiting in jail without an indictment. When you asked Fulton County why these people were waiting so long, what did they say?

Julian Clark: So, we specifically sent in records requests that asked for information about it, but we never asked directly any officials in the county why. Why people are being held.

Peter Biello: What did they say in response to that information request?

Julian Clark: So we specifically requested whether they were complying with a court rule which is subject of the lawsuit. And they responded that they have no information that is relevant to our request, which suggests to us that they are not in compliance with that rule.

Peter Biello: Otherwise, they would have had something to show you.

Julian Clark: Exactly.

Peter Biello: OK. So why is it important for a judge to know when an individual is kept in jail for that amount of time without an indictment?

Julian Clark: The reason why it's essential to know is that Fulton County Jail now, and for a long time, has been experiencing overcrowding. There's terrible conditions in the jail. People have died. Dozens of people have died over the last couple of years. And right now, given those conditions, if there's anyone that's in the jail that hasn't been convicted or the judge has an opportunity to expedite their case process, it's essential that the judge be aware of that.

Peter Biello: Is this unique to Fulton County or is this going on elsewhere in Georgia?

Julian Clark: So our investigation was primarily focused on Fulton County. But our understanding is that this is likely something that's happening all over the state.

Peter Biello: It's well-known that throughout the state, there is a shortage of public defenders,and there aren't enough judges to quickly handle all the cases that are presented to them. So even if the judges in Fulton County were informed, what could they — what could the system possibly do after that point, given the state's limited resources?

Julian Clark: The chief judge, as the the head court administrator, has the authority to bring in other judges, whether retired or judges who are in other jurisdictions, to help expedite the court's docket. So that's one of the things that we would hope the court does with this information, is that they use their discretionary funds and whatever, whatever resources they have available to them to help expedite these cases.

Peter Biello: The Fulton County Jail is a crowded, dangerous place, as you mentioned at the outset. There have been several deaths in a short amount of time at the Fulton County Jail. Do you think compliance with this law would help with the jail's overcrowding? And if so, how?

Julian Clark: Yes, absolutely. Another thing that could be done is that the judges in Fulton County could start evaluating people's ability to pay. So if, if they're being charged with a misdemeanor or even some felonies, judges are required to evaluate whether someone can make a certain bail determination. And right now, that's not happening. So our hope is that compliance with this rule will bring greater awareness and hopefully spark some change.

Peter Biello: Julian Clark, an attorney for the ACLU, thank you very much for speaking with me.

Julian Clark: Thank you Peter.

Peter Biello: And we reached out to Fulton County DA Fani Willis for comment, but did not receive a response.


Story 9:

Peter Biello: In sports, Masters champion Jon Rahm is giving the most exclusive dinner in golf a taste of the Basque region of Spain. The menu for the Masters Dinner for champions, which will be held next month, is in Spanish with subtitles. It includes appetizers with the spicy chorizo, creamy chicken fritters and his grandmother's lentil stew. For the main course: ribeye or a whitefish popular in the Basque region where Rahm grew up. The Champions Dinner, started in 1952, is exclusively for Masters champions.

And Braves pitcher Spencer Strider says it's an honor to be selected as the opening day starter. Strider will kick off the season on the mound against the Phillies in Philadelphia on Thursday next week. That the Phillies ended the Braves playoff runs for the past two seasons isn't lost on Strider, but he says starting the season in Philly doesn't amp up the intensity for him.

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Spencer Strider delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Monday, April 24, 2023, in Atlanta.

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Spencer Strider delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Miami Marlins, Monday, April 24, 2023, in Atlanta.

Credit: AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

Spencer Strider: You know, Game 1 is — is equally as important as Game 162. And that's the point of view that's made us successful as an organization. So definitely, you know, a cool honor for me. But the focus is certainly still towards the end of the season.

Peter Biello: Strider is known for his upper 90s fastball, but has experimented with a curveball during spring training. The Braves will celebrate opening day in Georgia with an Opening Day block party in Summerhill, the Atlanta neighborhood the Braves called home before moving north to their current home of Truist Park. The Braves' home opener is Friday, April 5 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

And that's it for this edition of Georgia Today. Thank you so much for tuning in. If you want to learn more about these stories, visit And remember to subscribe to this podcast because we're coming back to your podcast feed tomorrow afternoon with all the latest stories from Georgia. And if you've got feedback, we would love to hear from you. Email us. The address is I'm Peter Biello. Thank you again for listening. We'll see you tomorrow.


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