Axios Atlanta

Picture of the Atlanta skyline.

Happy Friday, Atlanta!

🥶 Today's weather: Sunny and way too cold for our liking. High around 39.

Situational awareness: The three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery are scheduled to attend their sentencing hearing today. Their crimes carry minimum life sentences. A judge will decide about the possibility of parole.

Today's newsletter is 900 words — a 3.5-minute read

1 big thing: 🎲 Guns, gambling and secession

David Ralston, wearing a mask and a suit, walks out of a conference room in the Georgia Capitol
House Speaker David Ralston leaves a Thursday briefing with reporters. Photo: Thomas Wheatley/Axios

When advocates of casinos, horse-racing and other forms of betting head to the Georgia Capitol next week for the Georgia General Assembly, they might discover their odds have improved from previous years.

Why it matters: Though the governor holds chief executive power in Georgia, all legislation eventually passes through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where Speaker David Ralston wields the gavel and the power.

  • Policies to boost public safety and to strengthen Georgia’s mental health care system — attracting workers, adding beds to treat people with mental illness, and fine-tuning existing laws, for example — will be Ralston’s main focus, he told reporters.

State of play: Here’s how Ralston feels on other major issues the General Assembly’s expected to consider — and the details of which remain up in the air.

  • Guns: Ralston, who tapped the brakes last year on gun-related legislation after eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed at spas, said his biggest concern with Kemp’s proposal to loosen Georgia's gun laws is making sure people with felonies and serious mental illness cannot get weapons.
  • Buckhead: The speaker says he remains undecided. “At the end of the day, what we do will set a precedent," he said. "And it will be a precedent we’ll be called upon to follow ... a year or two or in five years or 20 years down the road. I want us to get it right.”
  • Abortion: Ralston says he doesn’t expect any new legislation on women’s reproductive rights until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on Mississippi’s restrictive abortion law — and how that affects Georgia’s “heartbeat law.”

What we're watching: It’s an election year. Expect discussions about “parental input into a child’s education” — think Critical Race Theory, which is not likely a part of any schools' curriculum but was essentially condemned by Kemp and the state board of education in June — and tax breaks.

Read the full story.

2. Crypto creeps into campaigning

Illustration of a crypto coin with a bow.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

You know those extra bitcoins you have lying around? The ones you’ve been meaning to donate to a political campaign? Well, you’re in luck!

What’s happening: At least two Georgia Republicans running statewide are soliciting cryptocurrency as campaign donations.

Details: State Sen. Burt Jones, the Trump-backed Republican running for lieutenant governor, recently released a cryptocurrency payment portal after donors expressed interest.

  • He joins fellow Republican Secretary of State candidate David Belle Isle, who claims to have launched the first portal in the spring, also after donor interest. He said it took them more than six weeks to build.

Is this legal? According to David Emadi, executive director of the state Campaign Finance Commission, Georgia candidates can accept cryptocurrency if the donation is immediately converted into U.S. dollars, to ensure the value doesn’t shift over legal limits.

  • Of note: This isn’t new. Former Georgia Republican Rep. Bob Barr was on the cutting edge when he solicited bitcoin donations back in 2014. He tells Axios that happened thanks to guidance from his “younger staff.”

Read the full story.

3. Atlanta schools announce new COVID testing measures

Illustration of a school bus wearing a mask.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

New protocols will soon be in place for Atlanta Public School students and staff.

The latest: Starting Jan. 18, APS will roll out new test-to-stay measures at schools and district offices for students and employees.

  • When the district identifies a person who tests positive, students and staff who were in close contact with this individual will be notified and monitored for symptoms.
  • Close contacts who consent to participate in test-to-stay and have a negative result can stay in school or at work if they remain asymptomatic and continue to test negative through 10 days after they were exposed.
  • Anyone who develops symptoms or tests positive will go home to isolate.
  • People who don’t consent to test-to-stay and test positive will be required to isolate at home for 10 days.

When in-person classes resume, masks will be required for students and staff. Voluntary surveillance testing for students will be held twice a week. Only 20% of parents have allowed their children to take part in surveillance testing.

How it works: APS will review two factors in determining if it should move to virtual learning: if the overall school positivity rate is 5% or more of the student and staff population and if either Fulton or DeKalb counties is experiencing high community transmission of COVID-19.

Meanwhile: COVID-19 vaccination events are planned from 10am to 2pm tomorrow for eligible students, families and staff at Sutton Middle School, Long Middle School, Jackson High School and Mays High School.

Read the full story.

4. 😎 Whatcha doin’ this weekend?

A latte with "weekend" written in the foam.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The first week back from a long holiday break is always rough. Go laugh, walk, dance, cheer, whatever you like. Please be safe.

🏺 Friday: Scott Antiques Market at the Atlanta Expo Centers ($5 for all-weekend access). DJs at the High Museum of Art ($20 for nonmembers).

🏃 Saturday: Mountain Adventure: Out of Bounds at Fernbank ($25). ArtAround Sculpture Tour in Roswell (Free). Chairman Cupid's Annual 5K in Austell ($35).

🏈 Sunday: Falcons take on the Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (starting at $50). Repticon at the Gwinnett County Fairground ($5 for children ages 5-12). Exhibiting Culture at the Hammonds House Museum. ($10)

5. Five points: Standalone ERs for rural Georgia?

Illustration of five-ish points animating to form the letters ATL.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

⚡ This is what ratepayers should know about the long-running Plant Vogtle expansion project. (Georgia Public Broadcasting)

🏠 Brookhaven begins $9.3 million park renovation. (AJC)

🗳️ Asian Americans want Gwinnett County to provide language assistance services at the polls. (WABE)

🏥 Could standalone emergency rooms solve health care gap in rural Georgia? (The Current)

❗ Former district attorney for Paulding County pleads guilty to unprofessional conduct, gets probation. (Fox 5 Atlanta)

In case you missed it, the late Sen. Johnny Isakson’s funeral was in Atlanta yesterday, featuring eulogies from his children and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

  • McConnell said it was the largest bipartisan gathering of senators he's seen off the chamber floor since September, when they restarted a tradition Isakson hosted annually: a bipartisan barbecue.