LISTEN: On the Tuesday, March 26 edition of Georgia Today: Opioid settlement dollars are headed to Georgia; some lawmakers are calling for an expansion of the Port of Savannah; more professional soccer could be coming to metro Atlanta. 

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Orlando Montoya: Hello and welcome to the Georgia Today podcast from GPB News. Today is Tuesday, March 26. I'm Orlando Montoya. On today's episode, millions of dollars are making their way to communities all across the state from an opioid settlement. Some lawmakers want to make the Port of Savannah even deeper, and another professional soccer team could be coming to metro Atlanta. These stories and more are coming up on this edition of Georgia Today.


Bottles of prescription painkiller OxyContin, 40mg pills, made by Purdue Pharma L.D. sit on a shelf at a local pharmacy, in Provo, Utah, U.S., April 25, 2017. Photo by George Frey/REUTERS

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Orlando Montoya: Communities across Georgia soon will decide how to spend their share of millions of dollars coming from a massive opioid settlement. GPB's Ellen Eldridge reports, the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia is hosting elections for councils to divvy up the funds.

Ellen Eldridge: Delegates from local cities and counties, including members from community service boards, sheriff's offices and hospitals, will meet by region to select their regional advisory councils. Dave Willis is the executive director of the ACCG. He says the councils will then decide how to spend their portion of $191 million in settlement funds from Purdue Pharma.

Dave Willis: The money that is allocated on a regional basis has to be spent for prevention, treatment, recovery and harm reduction.

Ellen Eldridge: Delegates from Regions 2 through 6 will vote later this month on their council members. For GPB News, I'm Ellen Eldridge.


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Orlando Montoya: Enrollment in the federal health insurance marketplace continues to grow across the country. Federal health officials credit increasingly affordable health insurance plans and Medicaid unwinding. That's the process of determining Medicaid eligibility for millions of people following the COVID-19 public health emergency. GPB's Sofi Gratas has more on coverage in Georgia.

Sofi Gratas: The first figures on marketplace and Medicaid enrollment this year show a record number of people nationally have signed up for both yet again. That includes an almost 40% enrollment increase in Georgia across all Affordable Care Act programs At the same time that thousands of people have been pushed for Medicaid during unwinding, expected to end this summer. Georgia is part of the handful of states that have not expanded Medicaid. On a recent call, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra said President Biden, quote, "is not willing to wait," Hinting at a budget proposal to offer Medicaid-like plans in holdout states. A commission on health care expansion in Georgia will meet this summer, after lawmakers came closer than ever to considering it this session. For GPB News, I'm Sofi Gratas.


File Photo by Pilar Olivares/REUTERS

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Orlando Montoya: The city of Roswell is making a bid for two professional soccer teams. The city's council yesterday approved a letter of intent with the United Soccer League to negotiate an agreement to bring a women's team in the Division I USL Super League and a men's team in the USL Championship to the city north of Atlanta. The team's stadium would be built to seat at least 10,000 people and anchor an entertainment district in a yet-to-be determined location. The move came on the same day U.S. soccer announced an April 8 groundbreaking for its new headquarters and a first-ever national team training facility in Fayette County, south of Atlanta.


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Orlando Montoya: Georgia officials have picked up a key endorsement in their bid to have the federal government study another deepening of Savannah's harbor. Congressman Sam Graves threw his support behind this study yesterday while visiting the port of Savannah. The Missouri Republican chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees water infrastructure projects. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers just finished a nearly $1 billion harbor expansion project in 2022. Georgia officials say Savannah's busy shipping channel already needs an even deeper harbor to accommodate newer and larger ships. And speaking of ships, of course, tragedy unfolded in Baltimore early this morning. The Georgia Ports Authority is, however, drawing attention to a major difference between a bridge that collapsed in Baltimore after being struck by a container ship, and the bridge that leads to the busy port of Savannah. GPB's Benjamin Payne has that story.

Benjamin Payne: Unlike the Francis Scott Key Bridge that toppled in Baltimore, the Talmadge Memorial Bridge in Savannah does not have support columns that stand in the water. The Georgia Ports Authority pointed out this difference in a statement issued in response to the Baltimore incident. Video of that collision appears to show a container ship striking a bridge support column in the Patapsco River. The GPA also said that in Savannah, two or three tugboats accompany each ship in and out of the port. However, further south of the Port of Brunswick, tugboats are used only when they are, quote, "needed." There, the Sydney Linear Bridge has two support beams along the shipping channel protected by large barriers of rocks. In 2019, the cargo ship Golden Ray ran aground off St. Simons Island, a few miles after it had sailed beneath the Sydney Lanier Bridge. For GPB News, I'm Benjamin Payne.


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Orlando Montoya: Turning our attention now to the state capitol, the Georgia legislative session for 2024 is about to come to an end on Thursday. But there are still lots of bills under consideration. One measure still up for grabs is the idea of sports gambling. Senate Bill 386 would set up a framework for sports gambling in Georgia, and Senate Resolution 579 would set up a constitutional amendment to allow voters to decide the issue. Both measures have passed the state Senate and would still need to get through the House by the end of the day Thursday, if they are to succeed. A bit closer to succeeding is the budget: the fiscal year budget for 2025. The state Senate today passed the $36 billion FY 25 state budget. The spending plan, approved overwhelmingly, includes pay raises for state employees and public school teachers, and large funding increases in education and mental health as the state sits on a $16 billion budget surplus. The budget is likely headed to a conference committee to work out differences with the House ahead of the last day of the session, which is on Thursday. And of course, you can keep up with all the latest from under the Gold Dome by tuning in to GPB-TV's Lawmakers. Each night, the legislature is in session at 7 p.m. and of course, check out as well.



Members of Johnny Isakson's family participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday, March 25, 2024, as part of renaming the regional Veteran's Affairs office after the late U.S. senator.

Members of Johnny Isakson's family participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday, March 25, 2024, as part of renaming the regional Veteran's Affairs office after the late U.S. senator.

Credit: Sarah Kallis/ GPB News

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Orlando Montoya: The Atlanta Veterans Affairs Office has a new name honoring the late Georgia senator and veteran Johnny Isakson. GPB's Sarah Kallis has that story.

Sarah Kallis: As members of former Sen. Johnny Isakson’s family cut the ribbon in front of the new sign for the Isakson VA regional office, they applauded his legacy in Congress. John Isakson, the senator's son, said his family is grateful for the honor.

John Isakson: It's a little overwhelming to see this much attention, but obviously a big honor seeing — seeing Dad's name on the building and all the credit to the VA for efficiency.

Sarah Kallis: Sen. Isakson was a member of the Georgia Air National Guard before serving in the U.S. Senate for 14 years, where he was chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. He died in 2021 after leaving office due to Parkinson's disease. For GPB News, I'm Sarah Kallis in Atlanta.


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Orlando Montoya: And here's a little bit of good news for book lovers. The Decatur Book Festival will return this fall after struggling to regain its foothold in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization today announced a two-day festival to kick off on Oct. 4, with a full day of author panels on Oct. 5, The Decatur Book Festival was founded in 2005 and once attracted tens of thousands of visitors to downtown Decatur. But it was held virtually in 2020, that terrible pandemic year. It was scaled back in person in 2021 and 2022, and completely canceled in 2023. Now, the organization has also announced a new director, Leslie Wingate, who currently directs campus and community relations at Emory Libraries. Event sponsors and featured authors are yet to be named. And you don't have to wait til October to get your book fix. You can always go down to your library, check out a book, go to your bookstore, and check out our podcast called Narrative Edge. This is a GPB podcast highlighting books with Georgia connections. It's hosted by me and Peter Biello, and each episode will introduce you to authors, their writings, and the insights behind their stories, mixed with our own thoughts about just what gives these works the narrative edge. In the latest episode, which came out today. I take a look at Bengal Hound by Alpharetta native Rahad Abir. It's a tumultuous love story set in Bangladesh in the late '60s. Check out Narrative Edge wherever you get your podcasts.

And that's it for today's edition of Georgia Today. For more on GPB News, check out our website GPB/org/news. Hit subscribe on this podcast so you always stay current with us in your feed. And if you have feedback, send that to us at Georgia I'm Orlando Montoya. I'll talk to you again tomorrow.