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New Georgia Senate map clears redistricting committee
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ATLANTA — The Republican-led Georgia Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee has adopted a redrawn Senate map Democrats and citizen activists criticized as partisan and rushed.

The panel voted 9-4 along party lines to send a proposed map to the full Senate an independent nonpartisan analysis showed could let Democrats reduce the Republican majority by one seat.

But opponents said a fairer map such as an alternative prepared by Senate Democrats would result in districts that more accurately reflect minority population growth in Georgia during the last decade.

The map’s opponents also criticized the committee’s timing – releasing the proposed map on the same day as municipal elections were being held across the state and voting on it even as the Atlanta Braves celebrated this week’s World Series victory with a parade within a few blocks of the Georgia Capitol.

“Georgians have demanded fair maps and a transparent redistricting process, and Georgia Senate Republicans are failing on both fronts,” Scott Hogan, executive director of the Georgia Democratic Party, said. “Georgians deserve an open redistricting process – not one that rushes a decision that will affect Georgians for the next decade.”

The General Assembly redraws Georgia’s congressional and legislative district lines every 10 years to accommodate changes in population reflected in the U.S. Census.

The Peach State’s population grew during the last decade by about 1 million to 10.7 million, primarily the result of increasing numbers of minority residents.

“Georgia’s growth has been driven by black, Hispanic and Asian Georgians,” Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, told committee members. “Every map must reflect that reality.”

Instead, Butler complained, the map proposed by Senate Republicans would split several counties with large minority populations to dilute minority voting strength. She cited as examples Bibb, Chatham, Athens-Clarke, Douglas and Henry counties.

The alternative map Senate Democrats proposed would give minority voters a better chance to elect candidates of their choice by keeping Athens-Clarke together inside a single district and putting most of Henry County in a single district, Butler said.

Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta, said the courts frown on “racial gerrymandering,” redrawing districts in a way that reduces minority voting power.

“If you have the opportunity to create a majority-minority district without a lot of crazy gerrymandering, you ought to take it,” Jones suggested to the committee.

Other Democrats, as well as representatives of civil and voting rights groups who testified Friday during a public-comment period, accused Republican leaders of rushing the Senate map through the committee in just three days without sufficient chance for public review.

“Transparency is a big deal,” Sen. Ed Harbison, D-Columbus, said. “If you subscribe to that, you can’t go wrong.”

But committee Chairman John Kennedy, R-Macon, said the Senate map was the product of weeks of public hearings across Georgia.

Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, said interested members of the public have had access to 2020 Census data since September and have been able to submit comments on an online portal set up by the committee.

Cowsert said the Republican map complies with the federal Voting Rights Act as well as such general redistricting principles as keeping districts as close to equal in population as possible.

“These districts are compact,” he said. “There are no pairings of incumbents and very minimal splitting of counties.”

The map will head next to the Senate floor for a vote, probably this week.

Meanwhile, the Georgia House Legislative and Reapportionment Committee has begun on drawing new House districts. The panel was presented with both Republican and Democratic maps.

“We’re proud of our map, and we think it’s the best for all Georgians,” House Minority Leader James Beverly, D-Macon, said.

“This is a map that people will look at and say, ‘Hey, they got it right.’”

Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, who chairs the committee, introduced the GOP leadership map, which she said complies with all constitutional and federal voting rights requirements.

Rich said the map includes 48 House districts that are majority black, and 78 “minority opportunity” districts.

The committee will hold a hearing on both maps on Monday.


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Cumberland Island waives hunt fees for veterans
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Cumberland Island National Seashore provides the public with an opportunity to hunt within its Wilderness area six times per year.

ST. MARYS – Cumberland Island National Seashore provides the public with an opportunity to hunt within its Wilderness area six times per year. In honor of the veterans who have served our country, the park’s $35 registration fee for the hunt scheduled for Nov. 9-11 will be waived for veterans. Veterans only need to show a valid veteran ID when checking in for the hunt and refunds will be made through Pay.gov for those eligible.

“This is a small way we can recognize the selflessness of veterans who put country ahead of themselves. We are happy to honor their service with this offer,” Superintendent Gary Ingram said.

All hunters for this hunt and the remaining hunts must register online in advance up until two-days prior to the start of each hunt. Registration is $35 per hunter except for the Adult/Child hunt, which is $35 per adult/child pair. Again, veterans’ $35 registration fee for the Nov. 9-11 hunt will be refunded via Pay.gov. Information about how to register can be found on the park website at www.nps.gov/cuis/planyourvisit/managed-hunts.htm.

The remaining dates for hunts follow those of Georgia Department of Natural Resources and include:

Hunt--Type--Date--Game--Age

♦ Primitive Weapons: Nov. 9-11, Hog and Deer, 14 and over

♦ Primitive Weapons: Dec. 7-9, Hog and Deer, 14 and over

♦ Adult/Child: Dec. 20-21, Hog and Deer, Ages 10-17

♦ Modern Weapons: Jan. 4-6, Hog Only, 14 and Over

♦ Modern Weapons: Jan. 25-27, Hog Only, 14 and Over

Transportation to Cumberland Island is by passenger ferry or private boat. The hunt passenger ferry departs from the National Park Service dock in St Marys at 10 a.m. on the Monday before the hunt start date. The return ferry departs Plum Orchard dock at 10:30 a.m. on the Friday after the hunt ends. The ferry for the parent/child hunt departs on Sunday and returns on Wednesday. The round-trip fare is $50.

Once hunters receive the confirmation of their hunting registration, they must call the ferry office to book ferry passage to the island in advance of the hunt. Specify the 10 a.m. Hunt ferry. The ferry reservation number is (877) 860-6787 or (912) 882-4335.

See www.nps.gov for more information.


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Democrats' plan would provide insurance for millions of low-income adults
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WASHINGTON — At least 2.2 million low-income adults — nearly all in Texas and the Southeast — would be eligible for government-funded health insurance under the Democrats’ $1.75 trillion social spending and climate change plan.

That’s the number of people who are eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act but have been left uninsured because they live in one of the dozen states that have not expanded coverage under the 2010 law. They are in the coverage gap — with incomes too high to qualify for Medicaid, but below the $12,880 annual federal income minimum for an individual to qualify for subsidized coverage in the insurance marketplaces created by the ACA.

An estimated 60% of those caught in that Medicaid coverage gap are black or Hispanic, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. And nearly two-thirds of those in the gap live in one of three Republican-controlled states: Texas (771,000), Florida (415,000) and Georgia (269,000), according to a KFF analysis.

Under the plan announced by President Biden after negotiations with key Democratic lawmakers in Congress, those in the gap would qualify for ACA marketplace subsidies for four years starting in January. They would get additional cost-sharing protections starting in 2023 that would bring their out-of-pocket costs close to zero.

To encourage existing Medicaid expansion states to maintain their coverage levels, the bill would raise the 90% federal matching rate for the expansion population to 93% from 2023 through 2025.

To help pay for that coverage and incentivize holdout states to expand Medicaid, starting in 2023 the plan would permanently cut billions in special federal Medicaid funding to the non-expansion states that helps hospitals with disproportionately high rates of uninsured or Medicaid patients.

Those cuts have unsettled hospital industry officials, who worry that losing those special funds would mean less money to pay for services.

“We always are in favor of coverage expansion,” said Beth Feldpush, senior vice president of America’s Essential Hospitals, which represents hospitals that treat many poor and uninsured patients. “Our concern is it is paired with cuts to the safety net, and … that is a double-edged sword.”

The American Hospital Association has estimated those funding cuts would total as much as $7.8 billion over 10 years. Industry groups say hospitals need the extra Medicaid funding to handle the more than 25 million people who would remain uninsured even after the coverage expansion.

But an analysis by Matthew Fiedler for the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy released recently found the expanded coverage would lift profit margins of hospitals in the non-expansion states by $11.9 billion in 2023 alone. The report cites two main factors for the improvement: hospitals getting paid for care that they already deliver but don’t currently get paid for, and hospitals seeing more demand for care as people gaining coverage seek more services.

Marketplace health plans generally pay higher reimbursement rates than Medicaid — but they also often come with higher deductibles that can be difficult for patients to pay and providers to collect.

The massive spending package hinges on Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whose support is critical. Democrats can’t afford to lose one party member vote in the 50-50 Senate, where Vice President Kamala Harris would break any ties and the GOP stands firmly against any government expansion. But Manchin has not yet said whether he will vote for the package.

Consumer advocates are ecstatic that Congress may no longer wait for intransigent Republican-controlled legislatures and governors to expand Medicaid. Republican leaders have cited a host of reasons for resisting, including that their states can’t afford the 10% match and that nondisabled adults don’t deserve Medicaid. States could not block the coverage expansion because it falls outside of Medicaid, which is jointly funded by the federal and state governments.

“This is a big deal,” said Anne Swerlick, a public interest attorney in Tallahassee, Fla., who has lobbied Florida’s legislature to expand Medicaid. “It would make an extraordinary difference in the quality of life for tens of thousands of Floridians caught in the gap. In many instances, it will be a lifesaver.”

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., a key lawmaker advocating for the provision, said Congress needs “to close the coverage gap in Georgia and the 11 other states where hard-working families wake up every day without health care coverage their neighbors in 38 other states enjoy.” But on Wednesday, he said he and Georgia’s other congressional Democrats oppose the cuts to special Medicaid funding for hospitals.

While most states expanded Medicaid in 2014, no state legislature has adopted it since Virginia’s in 2018. Since 2017, six states have enacted expansion as a result of ballot initiatives, most recently Missouri.

Those that haven’t adopted it are in the South, save for Wyoming, Kansas, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Wisconsin already covers adults on Medicaid up to the federal poverty level but has not expanded it to match the 138% of that federal level called for under the ACA.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp and other GOP leaders have sought federal approval for a partial Medicaid expansion, which would require work or other activities for eligibility. But the Biden administration has so far resisted this approach.

R.D. Williams, CEO of Hendry Regional Medical Center in Clewiston, Fla., said the Democrats’ plan would cover about 60% of the uninsured who use his hospital, which serves one of the poorest parts of the state.

“It will definitely have an impact,” he said.

Expanding coverage, he said, would help many patients better manage their health by getting access to primary care doctors and specialists. Medicaid enrollees make up 25% of Williams’ patients, while more than 30% have no coverage.

“Our largest payer group is the uninsured,” he said.

However, Williams said he was still trying to figure out how much money he might have to give up in Medicaid funding under the bill. Those cuts would occur unless Florida expands Medicaid.

Elijah Manley, 22, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., racked up more than $2,000 in bills after going to a hospital emergency room for COVID-19 treatment last year. Without insurance, he has no way to pay and fears it will hurt his credit. He’s been uninsured since he aged out of Medicaid when he turned 21.

Manley works part-time in a bar and also is one of several Democrats running for a special primary election for a state House seat in January. He said he hopes Congress will pass a plan that gives him access to free or low-cost insurance so he doesn’t have to think twice about going to the doctor.

“It would be very helpful to me, as I have a couple of things I want to check out,” he said, noting he has a family history of diabetes.

It’s been nearly a decade since the Supreme Court in 2012 narrowly upheld the ACA but made its Medicaid expansion provision optional for states.

Joan Alker, director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families, said the Democrats’ plan should motivate states to expand Medicaid because they could do so without losing their special Medicaid funding.

“If it moves states, that would be great, but it ain’t going to happen,” said Chip Kahn, president of the Federation of American Hospitals, which represents for-profit hospitals.

The Medicaid gap has contributed to the financial problems of rural hospitals in Georgia, leading to recent closures, said Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga. On people stuck in the coverage gap: “It’s unfair, and folks are suffering and dying needlessly.”

Anne Dunkelberg, health policy expert for the advocacy group Every Texan, said 80% of Texans in the coverage gap are in working households.

“I obviously am not going to celebrate till the ink dries, but I’d be thrilled for the working poor in Texas to get coverage,” she said.


Rowan A., Lake Park Elementary School


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