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Greetings, Georgia.

It's Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023.

We've got good news: COVID-19 is still a global health emergency, but has improved, the World Health Organization announced Monday. Here's why.

Yesterday during the legislative session, Georgia House Minority Leader James Beverly (D-143) called for a moment of silence to mourn Tyre Nichols, the 29-year-old Black man killed by Memphis police earlier this month. Elsewhere, some Georgians are headed to the polls today for a number of special elections.

Read on for stories about tracking Georgia's right whale population, how a Georgia Walmart store helps predict inflation and why a world-famous musician is lobbying the Georgia Legislature.

This is Georgia Today.



State health departments seek their share of funding during start of session

The Georgia Capitol (GPB)

Budget hearings at the start of Georgia’s legislative session saw state departments dive into Gov. Brian Kemp’s  proposed budget and make a case for funding priorities. 

Appropriations for the state’s four major health departments next fiscal year include over $7 billion for mental and behavioral health services and an expanded HIV prevention program, among others.

But a top concern this year is the unwinding of a pandemic-era policy that's kept people on Medicaid without interruptions, and is set to expire in April. The Department of Community Health will work with the Department of Human Services to re-evaluate over 2 million Georgia adults and kids — of whom more than half a million are estimated to lose Medicaid coverage in the process. 

The FY 2023 budget includes $8.4 million dollars to fund additional case workers and administrative support for unwinding, with an additional $3 million for FY 24. But DHS says their staff will likely see caseloads go up more than 200%. 

  • “We've retrained current employees and we are aggressively hiring new ones,” DHS Commissioner Candice Broce said during budget hearings. “Keep in mind that while we are redetermining Medicaid cases, we will continue to receive new benefit applications, process renewals and handle appeals.”
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Allman Brothers and Rolling Stones keyboardist calls for Ga. music tax incentives

Chuck Leavell, keyboardist for the Rolling Stones and the Allman Brothers, makes the case to the Georgia Music Heritage Study Committee at a meeting last fall. (Courtesy of Mala Sharm)

Chuck Leavell has played in two of the most legendary rock and roll bands in history — the Allman Brothers and the Rolling Stones — and is now hoping to shine a spotlight on Georgia's legendary music scene.

A nonpartisan study group in the Georgia legislature was assembled during the 2022 legislative session to assess how to expand and encourage the music industry to grow and invest in the state, as well as how to utilize and promote the state's vast music history. A nonprofit named Georgia Music Partners is hoping to lead the way in making the case.

  • "Look at the incentives that we have for film in Georgia and look what that's done for the revenue of the state and to put a spotlight on our state and for this art form of film," Leavell said. "We want to do the same thing for music."
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At a Jan. 25 joint Senate Health, Human Services, Children, & Families Committee meeting, Aubrey Brannen, from the Department of Family & Children Services, pleaded for Senators' help with the "hoteling" issue around the state. (GPB Lawmakers)

  • Georgia foster care officials blame a ‘hoteling’ problem on health care shortfalls. So far this fiscal year, more than 400 children have spent the night in hotels or state offices because appropriate placements could not be found for them. Click here to find out why.
  • How many Georgians qualify for student debt cancellations? The Biden administration released detailed data showing 26 million people across the country qualify. Click here to find Georgia's numbers.  
  • University of Georgia football quarterback Stetson Bennett, who led the Bulldogs to their second straight national championship, was arrested early Sunday in Dallas, Texas, after police said he was intoxicated and banging on doors.
  • NPR has been tracking prices at a Walmart in Georgia for four years. The latest shopping trip tells us a lot about what's been happening in world trade and the U.S. economy.


 North Atlantic right whale research boat docks in Savannah for public tours

At top, the research vessel Song of the Whale was docked along the Savannah River on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023. The ship's underwater microphones listen for the call of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale (a mother and calf of which are pictured in a 2021 photo by GDNR under NOAA permit 20556). (Benjamin Payne / GPB News)

With a decadent, three-story riverboat docked along the shore of the Savannah River, it would have been easy to miss the sailboat sitting nearby, were it not for its name: Song of the Whale.

Below the deck, it quickly becomes apparent that the vessel lives up to its name: an otherworldly voice reverberates throughout the cabin.

It's the call of a critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, as recorded about 10 days prior near Fernandina Beach, Florida, on one of the ship's underwater microphones, known as a hydrophone.

Anyone lucky enough to have been ambling down Savannah's riverfront on Friday had the rare opportunity to hop aboard what the International Fund for Animal Welfare calls one of the quietest marine research vessels in the world.

  • “Our work here has been primarily with the mothers and calves, trying to record them and trying to implement findings into some of the early warning systems,” senior research scientist Oliver Boisseau said. “The whales produce very distinctive, idiosyncratic calls. If these are detected, the Coast Guard is alerted, and then the Coast Guard can, in turn, alert passing vessels.”
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Demonstrators gather during a protest over the death of Tyre Nichols, Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Alex Slitz)

Tune into GPB Radio and at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. for Political Rewind.

Today's guests: WRBL-TV's Chuck Williams, Atlanta Journal-Constitution senior reporter Tamar Hallerman, Oglethorpe University professor of political science Dr. Kendra King-Momon, and immigration attorney Chuck Kuck.

Check out our Political Rewind podcast:

Listen to the latest Political Rewind podcast to hear Republican Eric Tanenblatt; former state senator Jen Jordan; the AJC's Patricia Murphy; and Tammy Greer, professor of political science at Clark Atlanta University.

NPR's Tiny Desk Seeks Big Talent

Got a big dream of playing NPR's Tiny Desk concerts? 

Send us a video of you playing one song behind a desk of your choosing. If you win, you'll get to play your very own Tiny Desk concert and go on tour with NPR Music.

Are you eligible?

Only eligible entries can win the contest. Does your entry have what it takes? We’ve got a quick and easy way to help you find out!

Entries open Feb. 7, 2023!
Click here for rules, FAQs and more information on how to submit your video.

Georgia Today is written by Sarah Rose and Kristi York Wooten and edited by Khari Sampson.
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