As the Georgia Aquarium celebrates its tenth anniversary, a new economic impact study finds the museum has injected $1.9 billion in the local economy in the last decade.
According to a new report by Bleakly Advisory Group, since opening the Aquarium has attracted some 22 million visitors, from which a majority hailed out of state, and contributed $8.1 million annually in state and local sales taxes in the last year.
“Every dollar invested in Georgia Aquarium generates an additional $2.50 of private and public investment to the area,” chief operating officer Joe Handy told the Atlanta Business Chronicle.
Already the largest aquarium in North America, the facility is slated to open a new $40 million California sea lion exhibit next month, with later expansions for an expanded dolphin exhibit underway as well.
Georgia Republicans on Saturday overwhelming approved a resolution backing of a divisive religious liberty proposal, which critics warned could be used as license to discriminate against gays and lesbians, even as the party elected its first openly gay man to a senior statewide position.
The resolution–a largely symbolic show of support among the grassroots for the failed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which cleared the state Senate but stalled in the House after non-discrimination language deemed a “poison pill” was introduced–was approved without debate, by a large majority and on a voice vote, during the party’s annual convention last weekend in Athens.
Republican activists in 11 of the state’s 14 congressional districts had earlier endorsed the proposal but the dramatic ease with which it cleared the state convention surprised some.
But despite the measure’s perception as anti-gay, delegates also anointed an out-gay man as one of the party’s principal officers.
Mansell McCord, a longtime GOP activist and former chairman of the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans, was elected treasurer of the Georgia Republican Party, edging out Gwinnett County GOP Treasure Brittany Marmol in a 770-596 vote.
McCord claimed the support of the five past state chairmen — and the two primary sponsors of the religious freedom bill.
“You need a man of unimpeachable integrity,” state Sen. Josh McKoon said of McCord before delegates voted. “You need someone who understands the complexity of campaign finance law. And you need someone who has been dedicated to the conservative movement for decades.”
McCord’s sexuality wasn’t a hallmark of the campaign–it wasn’t a fixture of his literature nor was it mentioned on the floor–and some delegates even mistakenly believed he was the husband of female candidate Debbie McCord, who was elected second-vice chair on the same day of balloting.
But cultural conservatives, aware but nonplussed by McCord’s earlier LGBT activism, mostly shrugged at his ascension Saturday.
“The state party has spoken. I’m good with that,” Virginia Galloway, a spokeswoman for Ralph Reed’s Christian conservative group Faith and Freedom, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The great thing about [McCord] is that he doesn’t make a big deal of it.”
Governor Nathan Deal on Tuesday green lighted the commercial sale and regulation of fireworks in Georgia.
The new law, which cleared the General Assembly only hours before the legislative session expired, will take affect July 1 — in time for Independence Day celebrations across the state.
All of Georgia’s neighbors already allow for the sale of fireworks, though previous attempts to legalize their sale locally bombed amid opposition from health groups and public safety officials.
Deal, on Tuesday, said he believed the debate this year was less incendiary because of safety carveouts included in the bill. The new law requires those businesses or nonprofits selling fireworks to be licensed by the state and pay a $5,000 fee, which will be used for public safety purposes.
“People in our state are crossing state lines and buying fireworks,” Deal said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We have so many neighbors around us that already authorize the sale of fireworks, I think this just made sense. And I think we have taken every precaution we can to try to eliminate any injuries associated with it.”
The controversial sheriff a suburban Atlanta county gut shot a woman Sunday night and is now refusing to cooperate with local law enforcement investigating the incident.
Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill shot the woman, a real estate agent whose name has not been released, at a model home in Lawrenceville. The woman remains in critical condition with a gunshot wound to the abdomen.
The incident occurred outside of Hill’s south Atlanta jurisdiction. When local police arrived, Hill refused to answer any questions and left the scene, citing special privileges as sheriff.
Sunday’s shooting isn’t the first occasion in which Hill has come under review by fellow law enforcement. In 2013, he was indicted on 32 charges of racketeering, corruption, and theft by taking.
Despite the indictment, Hill, a Democrat, was renominated and elected by voters in the majority-black, working class suburb. He was later found not guilty by jury trial after his renomination.
The director of the state agency tasked with watch dogging judicial misconduct resigned this week amid scrutiny over his compensation and retirement benefits.
Ronnie Joe Lane, who retired as superior court judge last year to lead the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission, was receiving full-time compensation while reporting part-time pay to avoid having to defer his state retirement benefits, local legal news service The Daily Report revealed Monday.
According to state records, Lane was billing the agency, which probes complaints of judicial misconduct, for 20 hours of work a week — which amounted to the full-time compensation package the commission’s previous director earned.
Because he reported to state pension authorities he was working only part-time, he received an additional $7,000 per month in retirement benefits, according to the report.
Lane resigned his directorship only hours after the Daily Report ran Monday.
“Ronnie Joe does not want any could whatsoever … over the commission and over him,” JQC Chairman Lester Tate told the legal news wire. “He served honorable in the military and honorably on the bench, and I think he did on the commission as well.”
Attorney General Sam Olens says he will advise compliance by state agencies if the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates state bans on same-sex marriage even as he continues defending Georgia’s ban in federal court.
Olens told reporters Wednesday that he intends to counsel acquiescence should the high court ultimately invalidate marriage bans nationwide when it considers the issue later this spring.
“We’re going to advise those agencies that have policy roles to immediately follow the law,” Olens said at an Atlanta Press Club breakfast.
The Supreme Court will hear arguments next week in four consolidated cases challenging the bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. A ruling isn’t expected until the end of the court’s term, in late June.
Until then, Olens will continue defending Georgia’s decade-old ban in federal court. It was challenged in April last year—one year to the day of Olen’s comments Wednesday—by national gay rights group Lambda Legal on behalf of four local couples.
Olens, in an October court filing, said that “the right to marry” has always been a “fundamental right,” as the Supreme Court has ruled more than a dozen times. “But,” he said, “that right has never previously been understood as extending to same-sex couples.”
U.S. District Judge William Duffey, a Republican-appointed judge, in January declined to dismiss the suit, saying the state had failed to address how its interests are furthered in denying equal marriage to gays and lesbians.
A Braves executives said at a recent public forum that he hoped fans would choose alternative transportation methods, like bicycles, when traveling to the team’s new suburban stadium.
Mike Plant, Braves executive vice president of operations, told a business association Tuesday that he hopes fans will consider biking to the team’s new location in suburban northwest Atlanta to relieve congestion.
“We’re working closely with [community improvement districts] because we’re going to have a lot of bikers, and we want people to ride there, certainly on the weekends are take cars off the road,” Plant said at a meeting of the Kennesaw Business Association according to the Marietta Daily Journal.
The new stadium, into which the team will move in time for the 2017 season, is located off of one of the city’s major arteries, I-285. Last year, a cyclist was struck by a motorist down just down the road from the site of the new stadium.