Sam Whitehead

Reporter

Sam Whitehead came to GPB News in 2015. Prior to that, he worked in community radio in Ithaca, New York, where he ran a local nightly news show. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. He hasn’t won any awards yet. In his free time, he tries to become a better storyteller.

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You soon might be able to walk into your favorite local brewery and order up a pint or grab a six pack to take home.

 

State lawmakers have approved a bill to allow craft breweries and distilleries to sell their products directly to consumers. It passed with a vote of 52-1 in the Senate Wednesday.

 

Sam Whitehead / GPB

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump issued an executive order calling for sheriffs and police departments to take a larger role in immigrations enforcement.

He asked them to join a voluntary Immigrations and Customs Enforcement program called 287(g), which extends the reach of immigration agents into counties across the country.

But the program is nothing new for northwest Georgia’s Whitfield County, where one-third of the population is Hispanic.

After a nearly decade of participation by the county sheriff’s office, 287(g) still divides the community.

 

 

Evan Vucci / AP Photo

The Trump administration unveiled its proposed 2018 budget Thursday morning. Unsurprisingly, the budget calls for significant increases in military and border security spending while dramatically reducing the funding for a number of other government agencies.

Several of those cuts, including reductions at the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will affect a variety of Georgia-based programs that receive federal funding.

speaker.gov

As lawmakers continue to pour over the Republican plan to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, members of Georgia’s congressional delegation have started to respond.

Ken Lund / Flickr

Just one legislative day before Crossover Day, a plan to turn around Georgia’s low-performing schools has passed in the Georgia House.

 

The bill, HB 338, would create a “Chief Turnaround Officer” with the authority to intervene in low-performing schools. 

 

The turnaround officer would also be required to look at issues outside the classroom.

 

Georgia Lottery

Legislation that would mandate what percentage of Georgia Lottery revenue goes to education programs has passed the state Senate.

 

The bill attempts to restore funding levels to those set in 1993 when the Georgia Lottery Corporation was established.

 

Reno Tahoe / Flick

Legislation that would have allowed casino gambling in Georgia is dead for the year.

 

Sen. Brandon Beach (R - Alpharetta) said he pulled the measure because he didn’t have enough votes to get the bill out of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.

 

“Big issues like this take time. And so, we're just gonna have to come back next year,” Beach told reporters Monday. 

 

Bill McChesny / Flickr/CC

There are just four legislative days left until Crossover Day 2017. Any bill that hasn’t made it through at least one chamber of the Georgia General Assembly by Friday will be dead for the year.

But, with the clock ticking, there are still a number of major education issues that haven’t crossed over.

Sam Whitehead / GPB

This year could be a big one for school choice. State lawmakers are considering expanding a program that gives tax credits to Georgians who help bankroll private school scholarships. 

 

Supporters say the program gives students in public schools better access to other education options. But for many Georgians, especially those living in rural communities, those options are hard to find.

 

Kiezers / Wikimedia Commons

A special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court has sided with Georgia in the state’s long-running dispute with Florida over water rights in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin.

Sam Whitehead / GPB

This week, one of the largest pieces of Georgia’s Civil War history heads to its new home.

The panoramic painting Battle of Atlanta, also known as the Atlanta Cyclorama, arrives at the Atlanta History Center to undergo an extensive restoration.

But moving the massive painting, which is longer than a football field, hasn’t been easy.

Sam Whitehead / GPB

Tens of thousands of Georgia children never get their teeth cleaned.

It’s partly a problem of geography: kids have to travel too far to get to a dentist. Then there’s state law, which says a dentist must be present when a dental hygienist is working.

But that could change this year because of a set of bills in the General Assembly that would make it easier for hygienists to offer services on their own.

Sean Powers / GPB

Update 1/30/17 9:30 p.m.

As of this evening, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle had the following comment on the immigration and refugee order:

"We are constantly reminded of the challenges and dangers we face as a free nation. I do not envy the decisions that must be made by our President, but I support him as our leader and trust that the decisions made are in the best interest of Americans.”

Sam Whitehead / GPB

A Georgia police department is looking at its past to strengthen its relationship with the African-American community. 

 

Last week in LaGrange, something rare happened: the police chief made a public apology for his agency's role in a lynching that happened more than 75 years ago.

 

Governor Nathan Deal has expanded his state of emergency declaration to nine additional counties in south Georgia in the wake of the strong thunderstorms and tornadoes that ripped across the area this weekend.

The declaration now includes the following 16 counties: Atkinson, Baker, Berrien, Brooks, Calhoun, Clay, Colquitt, Cook, Crisp, Dougherty, Lowndes, Mitchell, Thomas, Turner, Wilcox and Worth.

In a press conference Monday afternoon, Deal stressed the state was making all its emergency management resources available to communities affected by the storms.

Sam Whitehead / GPB

All over Georgia, property is passed down from generation to generation without proper legal paperwork. 

 

It’s known as heirs property, and it creates a host of problems: from the inability to access home equity to the risk of losing your house.

 

And in the small city of Porterdale, about 40 miles east of Atlanta, it’s put one community on the verge of disappearing completely.

David Goldman / AP

Gov. Nathan Deal wants Georgia lawmakers to spend this year’s legislative session focused on underperforming schools, healthcare, and investing in the state’s workers.

 

Those were just a few of the highlights of his annual State of the State address delivered Wednesday to a joint session of the Georgia General Assembly.

 

Josh Hallett / Flickr

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s annual Eggs & Issues Breakfast gives legislative leaders the chance to lay out their priorities for the upcoming session.

This year, transportation took the spotlight. House Speaker David Ralston (R - Blue Ridge) announced plans for House leaders to back the creation of a commission to study how the state can better support its mass transit systems.

Steven Martin / Flickr

Georgia lawmakers find themselves in a kind of limbo these days. They’re back at work this week for the start of the 2017 legislative session, but there’s still more than a week before Inauguration Day.

 

The incoming Trump administration has promised a flurry of changes to everything from healthcare to immigration, but it’s still not clear whether those changes will happen or what they might look like.

 

How, as a state lawmaker, do you roll with the change and uncertainty that comes with such a transition?

 

Georgia Department of Corrections

Update 12/07/2016:

 

 The Supreme Court of Georgia and U.S. Supreme Court denied Sallie’s attorney’s requests for a stay of execution Tuesday. Sallie was executed at 10:05 p.m. Tuesday evening. 

Original Story:

On Tuesday night, Georgia plans to carry out its ninth execution of the year, the most since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in Gregg v. Georgia in 1976.

 

At the same time, new death sentences are getting rarer and rarer. It’s been more than two years since a Georgia jury handed one down.

 

Getting inside the state’s capital punishment contradiction, means getting inside the cases of the condemned. 

 

Grant Blankenship / GPB

Wildfires continue to burn all across the hills of north Georgia. 

 

The U.S. Forest Service is fighting the state’s largest fires: they’re burning tens of thousands of acres in the Chattahoochee National Forest.

 

Georgia has to fight the fires on state and private land, and hundreds of personnel from multiple agencies are working around-the-clock to contain them.

 

Some of the larger fires have burned for weeks, but smaller fires pop up every day, seemingly out of nowhere. That’s what happened recently on Ryo Mountain just outside of Fairmount in Gordon County.

Sam Whitehead / GPB

Georgia’s multi-billion dollar agriculture industry needs water, but farmers who rely on the Flint River could soon face drastic water restrictions.

Right now, Florida is suing Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court. The case is just one part of Georgia’s decades-long three-way water war with Alabama and Florida.

The outcome won’t mean an end to the water fight, but it could result in a cap on how much water farmers in southwest Georgia can pull from the Flint.

In the meantime, farmers are looking for new ways to use less water, and some are turning to big data to find solutions.

Sam Whitehead / GPB

What would you do to keep from sitting in traffic?

Drivers on a stretch of I-85 north of Atlanta confront that question each time they pass a set of limited access toll lanes

The idea is simple: pay the toll, and move faster. The worse the traffic, the higher the toll.

But toll prices are rising, and that's raising questions about the true costs and benefits of the system just as the state builds similar lanes around metro Atlanta.

Sam Whitehead / GPB

Gwinnett County isn’t all white, but its county commission is and always has been.

 

The county has undergone a radical demographic transition in recent decades, but the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners has never had a non-white member.

That could change this year.

For the first time in history, white voters no longer make up the majority of Gwinnett’s registered voters, and that could tip the scales for one African-American county commission candidate: Democrat Jim Shealey.

NHC / NOAA

UPDATE 10/9/16 12:25 p.m

Governor Nathan Deal is lifting the mandatory evacuation order for coastal counties except for Chatham, where it won't be lifted until 5 p.m. At that point, Chatham County will be open to the public as well, though there will be a curfew in effect from 10 p.m.-7 a.m.

James “Jeb” Bell’s 100 acres of land in Mitchell County is typical southwest Georgia: groves of spindly pines patch open fields, cicadas whine, gnats bite.

“This ain’t a whole great pile of land, but it’s ours, and it’s been ours for 30 years,” said Bell stepping out of his pickup truck on a recent morning.

He and his brother got the land in the 1980s from their mother, who bought it for them during a bout with cancer. She wanted to give her sons a place where they could eventually settle down and build homes.

As of late, those plans have changed.

 

 

David Goldman / AP Photo/File

Governor Nathan Deal continues to defend his school takeover plan despite recent opposition from districts around the state. 

At a meeting of educators in Atlanta on Thursday, Deal said local districts aren’t responsive enough to the parents of children in poorly performing schools.

Haha169 / Wikimedia Commons

Newton County will hold a town hall meeting Monday evening on a proposed mosque and Islamic cemetery that have raised the concerns of local residents.

Last Tuesday, after hearing from those concerned residents, county officials blocked the project by passing a five-week moratorium on the construction of all religious buildings in the county.

That decision could put the county on the wrong side of a federal law called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA.

Sam Whitehead / GPB

Georgia State University is one step closer to owning Turner Field. The school has signed purchase and sale agreements with the City of Atlanta and hopes to close the deal by the end of the year.

 

Georgia State will pay $30 million dollars for the 67-acre site where they’ll renovate Turner Field into a football stadium, construct another stadium to host GSU baseball, and build academic buildings, student housing, and retail.

CAP/Jacobs Engineering

A new project could heal the 50-year-old gash cut through the heart of Atlanta by interstate highways. The idea? Build a platform over the Downtown Connector and turn exhaust-filled airspace into greenspace-anchored development.

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