- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) - Georgia Senate Democrats said Thursday that top priorities on their 2014 legislative agenda include addressing the state’s income gap and supporting working and middle-class families.

“Georgia now ranks 40th in the nation with regard to income inequality and 27 percent of Georgia’s children are living in poverty - one out of every four kids,” Sen. Horacena Tate, of Atlanta, said in a statement.

Senate Democrats outlined an agenda that also includes nearly doubling the state’s $5.15 minimum wage, expanding Georgia’s Medicaid system under the Affordable Care Act, providing funding for public education and ethics reform.

In a response statement Thursday night, John Padgett, chairman of the Georgia Republican Party, called the Democrats’ minimum wage initiative an “assault on job creators,” adding that raising wages would stifle job creation and negatively impact small-business owners.

Democrats said expanding the state’s Medicaid program is also a particular issue that Georgia lawmakers should take swift action on.

“Medicaid expansion would insure an additional 650,000 Georgians,” Sen. Vincent Fort, of Atlanta, said, adding that he considers expansion of the program to be morally and fiscally imperative.

Republicans pounced on that idea as well, saying that Georgians have to pay $300 million in new health care costs this year. Adding 650,000 people to the Medicaid program would cost $2.5 billion over 10 years, Padgett said.

Gov. Nathan Deal has previously said the state can’t afford to expand the program. However, Fort said the federal government would cover about 90 percent of the cost and expanding Medicaid “makes economic sense for individuals and businesses.”

Democrats also said they’ll try repealing a photo identification provision of a voter identification law that was passed in 2006.

“The Voter ID law restricts voting access for those without certain forms of identification, especially the elderly, our poor, and minority voters,” said Sen. Nan Orrock, of Atlanta.

Sen. Steve Henson, of Tucker, said the party is also proposing to establish a study committee to review tax expenditures, and an independent authority to investigate claims of misappropriation of state funds.

Jason Carter, a Democrat running for governor, was not at a news conference with other caucus members. Democrats said he had a scheduling conflict. Carter is the grandson of former President Jimmy Carter.