2019 In Georgia: The heartbeat bill and the new governor were at the top of the news

December 29, 2019
4 mins read

In 2019, Georgia swore in a new governor, said goodbye to a senator who was known for his bipartisanship, welcomed the Super Bowl to Atlanta, and grappled with a controversial new law. Here is a look back at the year we had.

Battle over a heartbeat

Georgia’s legislative session was dominated by a controversial “heartbeat bill” that would have made abortion in the state illegal after a heartbeat can be detected — usually around six weeks into a pregnancy.

The bill sparked at least two protest bills — one of which would have required men over age 55 to report themselves to authorities every time they released sperm — and created a national firestorm.

The bill was eventually passed by the legislature, signed by the governor and then blocked by the courts before it could go into effect.

Kemp takes the helm

Brian Kemp’s road to the Georgia governor’s mansion was not an easy one.

First, he had to get through a tense republican primary where he was the underdog. Then, he went head to head with Lieutenant Gov. Casey Cagle in a runoff election.

After winning the runoff, Kemp faced a strong challenge from democrat Stacey Abrams, who came within 54,000 votes of Kemp’s lead.

Governor-elect Brian Kemp will become Governor Brian Kemp on Jan. 14, and has spent the bulk of his first year in office working on a series of health care reforms for Georgia. He also helped lead the charge to replace Georgia’s insurance comissioner and appointed a new senator.

Toxins released into Georgia neighborhoods

In July, it was revealed that two medical supply sterilization plants had released high levels of Ethylene Oxide, a toxic gas, into the air in the Smyrna and Covington areas.

The revelation sent shockwaves through neighborhoods near the Sterigenics plant in Smyrna and the BD plant in Covington. Local governments got involved and demanded air quality testing and Gov. Brian Kemp requested an investigation into the matter.

This issue was not resolved by year’s end and residents and government officials will grapple with the consequences into 2020.

Johnny hangs it up

Georgia’s senior senator Johnny Isakson said goodbye to the U.S. Senate at the end of 2019. Isakson, who has been battling Parkinson’s disease, cited health concerns as the reason for his early departure.

The Cobb County republican was hailed for his bipartisanship and will be a tough act to follow on Capitol Hill.

Since Isakson retired before the end of his term, Gov. Brian Kemp got to appoint the senator’s successor. After a public application process open to anyone in the state who met the constitutional requirements for the senate, Kemp chose Atlanta Dream Co-Owner Kelly Loeffler.

She will fill Isakson’s seat in January and will hold it until a special election in November.

Mercedes-Benz Stadium hosts its first Super Bowl

The new crown jewel of the city of Atlanta, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, hosted its first Super Bowl this year.

If you don’t follow football, the Patriots defeated the Rams handily, but Super Bowl LIII was much more than a football game. It was a week-long economic driver complete with tourism money and events.

It also opens opportunities for criminals seeking to exploit children. Metro Atlanta’s law enforcement agencies were more than happy to get those criminals off the street prior to the big game.

Social media was also abuzz about a high dollar ticket scam in the run up to the superbowl. Local law enforcement also took care of that.

Graduation gift

During his commencement address at Morehouse College, billionaire Robert F. Smith made a startling announcement.

He told the class of 2019 that he would be paying off their student loans, allowing the graduates to begin their adult lives without the crippling student loan debt that many college graduates now face.

Remains Found

In October, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed it had found the remains of Jessica Victoria Earl on a property off of Mt. Zion Church Road in Bremen.

Earl has been missing since 2018 and was 31-years-old.

According to the Haralson County Sheriff’s Dept., a property owner on Mt Zion Church Road was out working on his property when he came across what he thought was a T-shirt but when he picked it up, was actually a tattered backpack. The discovery of the backpack led a search team to Earl’s remains.

Still hunting for clues

In September, The GBI announced that it was still searching for clues and information to solve the missing person case of Shy’Kemmia Pate.

Shy’Kemmia is an 8-year-old who went missing in 1998.

The GBI is specifically looking for individuals who were in or around the Crumpler Ave. area of Unadilla, Georgia in September of 1998 who may have seen or may know something about Shy’Kemmia’s disappearance.

Record-breaking heat

Nobody in metro Atlanta likes or uses the moniker Hotlanta. Unfortunately, the name comes to the city honestly and was well-earned this year.

In 2019, Atlanta beat its record of most 90 degree days.

If you were inside enjoying the air conditioning and not counting, that record now stands at 91 days. The previous 90 day record was set in 1980.

And when did Atlanta top this record? Not July or August. Oh no — we got there in October, when the weather is supposed to be cooling off.

Losing landmarks

Photo Credit: MotorSportMedia/Halston Pitman/Nick Woolever

In November, the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation released its list of Places in Peril, or historic landmarks that may not survive without intervention.

The list is released every year, but this year, readers of The Georgia Sun took a strong interest in the list and it was one of our most read articles of the year.

Places included in this year’s list were Antioch Baptist Church in Crawfordville, Cary Reynolds Elementary School in Doraville and Central State Hospital in Milledgeville.

What the heck do solid blue lights mean on a police car?

Another surprising news item that took off with our readers was the February announcement from the Gwinnett County Police Department that their police cruisers would be using solid, non-flashing lights called cruise lights.

Obviously, Georgians wanted to know what it means if they see a police car driving down the road with solid blue lights and no siren.

For the curious, A Gwinnett County Police spokesperson explained it like this:

“The cruise lights are used to bring a level of comfort to the community that police officers are in the area and are there if you need us,” said Cpl. Michele Pihera of the Gwinnett County Police Dept.

If you see a police officer behind you with solid blue lights, you do not need to pull over.

Snow news day

What list of top news stories of the year in Georgia would be complete without mention of some sort of snow or ice threat.

The Peach state goes a little crazy at the thought of snow and while this year it was minor and unmemorable, a look back at media coverage from the time shows that the threat of January snow sent Georgians into the usual frenzy.

For those who have forgotten, snow was expected around Jan. 28 and while there was snow reported in north Georgia, metro Atlanta and South Georgia didn’t see any snow this year.

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