Michelle Wirth

Reporter

Michelle comes to WABE after working at KMOX, the CBS radio affiliate in St. Louis, as a county government and general assignment reporter. Before joining KMOX, Michelle served as a medical and general assignment reporter at WSAV-TV, the NBC affiliate in Savannah, GA and as a state government and general assignment reporter at KOMU-TV in Columbia, MO. Michelle has a Master’s degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism and a Bachelor’s in Communications from the University of Denver. She lives in Midtown with her husband, Bryan, and her dog, Chewy.

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Health & Science
6:38 pm
Thu April 23, 2015

Grady To Pay $2.95M To Settle Medical Billing Allegations

Grady will pay the state more than $2.9 million to settle allegations of improper medical billing.
Credit Unclepockets / flickr.com/unclepockets

Grady Health System will pay nearly $3 million to the state to settle allegations of improper medical billing.

The state had accused Grady of inflated billings for services it provided in its neo-natal intensive care unit. The state alleged the hospital inaccurately coded some claims and got unjustified payments from Georgia Medicaid. As part of the settlement, there was no determination of wrongdoing.

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Local
11:41 am
Thu April 23, 2015

Ga. Education Groups Plan Fight Over School Takeover Measure

Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta is on a list of schools that could be eligible for Gov. Nathan Deal's school takeover plan. Under Deal’s plan a superintendent, appointed by the governor, would select up to 20 schools deemed failing each year.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

Groups are already lining up for and against a referendum that would allow for the state takeover of failing schools. Voters will decide next year whether to create a statewide school district to oversee schools the state determines are doing poorly under a Georgia Department of Education standard for three years in a row.

The Georgia Association of Educators says the referendum would give too much power to Gov. Nathan Deal and bypass local control. The group will work with others to oppose the referendum says Georgia Association of Educators President Sid Chapman.

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Education
6:18 pm
Tue April 21, 2015

Georgia Students, Activists Call For 'Debt-Free' College

Students, members of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Sen. Vincent Fort and others gather in a Georgia State University classroom to call for ''debt-free'' college.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

As tuition increases, students are calling on presidential candidates to let everyone graduate from a public college without student-loan debt.

In a classroom at Georgia State University, a handful of students, members of the left-leaning Progressive Change Campaign Committee and others spoke about the idea of debt-free college.

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Politics
4:57 pm
Thu April 16, 2015

Medical Marijuana Bill Signed By Gov. Nathan Deal, Becomes Law

Gov. Deal smiles after signing HB 1, a bill that decriminalizes medical cannabis oil for Georgians with eight different medical conditions.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

A type of medical marijuana is now legal in Georgia. Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill legalizing cannabis oil for Georgians with eight different medical conditions. That means some families who had left the state to get the oil can now return home.

The bill is named for 5-year-old Haleigh Cox who suffers from a seizure disorder.  Her mother Janea moved with her to Colorado so she could get Haleigh cannabis oil, but her husband stayed behind. Janea and her entire family attended the signing.

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Local
3:21 pm
Thu April 16, 2015

New Braves Stadium May Get Bicycle Trails Nearby

The Cumberland Community Improvement District plans to look into the possibility of bicycle trails near the new stadium.
Credit Atlanta Braves

As officials look for more ways to alleviate traffic congestion near the new Atlanta Braves stadium in Cobb County, Braves Vice President Mike Plant threw out another option this week.

Plant told the Kennesaw Business Association he’d like to see fans bike to the ballpark. The chairman of the Cumberland Community Improvement District, Tad Leithead, says that could someday be a reality.

There are already bicycle trails near the new stadium, but they don’t reach the ballpark. Leithead says he’d like to that see that change.

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Politics
6:04 pm
Wed April 15, 2015

Ga. Medical Marijuana Bill To Be Signed By Gov. Nathan Deal

Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order on medical cannabis oil earlier this month.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

Gov. Nathan Deal will sign a medical marijuana bill on Thursday.  The legislation decriminalizes cannabis oil for Georgians with eight different medical conditions. The oil won’t be produced in Georgia, so residents will have to figure out how to get it here.

Rep. Allen Peake sponsored the medical marijuana bill. He says Georgians will be able to get cannabis oil with less than 0.3 percent THC from two Colorado companies.

“[For] that particular product both manufacturers have said they’re willing to ship it back to Georgia,” Peake said.

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Local
11:56 am
Wed April 15, 2015

IRS Cuts Hurt Georgia Taxpayers, Union Says

The National Treasury Employees Union says Georgia has lost nearly 1,900 IRS workers since 2011.
Credit Ken Teegardin / Flickr.com/teegardin

It’s tax day. But if you need last minute help, you might want to avoid your local IRS office. Many taxpayers have had long waits when visiting the offices, as well as on the phone.

The National Treasury Employees Union says the wait times are a result of federal budget cuts. The union says Georgia has lost nearly 1,900 IRS workers since 2011. Terry Scott, president of NTEU Chapter 26 in Atlanta, says with fewer employees, local offices are no longer offering tax preparation help.

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Politics
6:15 am
Tue April 14, 2015

South Carolina Could Recognize Georgia Gun Permits

House Bill 3799 in South Carolina would allow Georgians with concealed carry permits to take their guns anywhere in South Carolina where firearms are legal.
Credit Robert Ray / Associated Press

Georgia gun owners with concealed carry permits might soon be able to take their firearms to more places in South Carolina. That’s if House Bill 3799 that’s been proposed in the South Carolina legislature gains approval.

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Politics
10:41 am
Mon April 13, 2015

Ga. Criminal Justice Reform Bill Revises Probation System

A criminal justice reform bill passed by the state legislature would create a new state agency to oversee parole and probation. The agency would combine supervisory services from the Department of Corrections, Department of Juvenile Justice and Pardons and Paroles into one state agency.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

Private Probation

Georgia lawmakers passed a key part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s criminal justice reform package this year, HB 310. Among other changes, the bill would change the state’s probation system for misdemeanor offenses. Critics have said for years that the system led to abuse, especially for poor offenders.

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Politics
1:00 pm
Sun April 12, 2015

Sen. Isakson Writes To VA Secretary Over Hospital Wait Times

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, is calling on the Veteran Affairs Secretary to provide a plan that ensures vets can access care outside the VA system.
Credit Charles Dharapak / Associated Press

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, is calling on the Veteran Affairs Secretary to provide a plan that ensures vets can access care outside the VA system. The request is due to a national report released on Thursday by the Associated Press, which said veterans still have long waits for care at VA hospitals, including here in Georgia.

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A Closer Look
11:03 am
Fri April 10, 2015

Georgia Legislature Approves Major Medical Bills In 2015

State Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, right, celebrates with families whose loved ones suffer from seizures. The Senate approved Peake's medical marijuana bill March 24 in Atlanta.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

Georgia’s legislative session recently ended. This week, we’re looking back at what happened under the Gold Dome, topic by topic. The legislature passed several major medical bills this year.

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Local
9:11 am
Fri April 10, 2015

Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Georgia Attorney General

A lawsuit against Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens was dismissed Thursday. The lawsuit accused Olens of racketeering.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

A Fulton County Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit Thursday accusing Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens of racketeering. The lawsuit was filed by University of Georgia professor Dezso Benedek.  

The professor sought sanctions and claimed the attorney general’s office committed fraud and withheld evidence during a 2010 process to try and revoke Benedek’s tenure. Benedek filed a similar suit against the state but without the racketeering charges. The case is pending before the Georgia Court of Appeals so Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter dismissed the lawsuit.

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Local
8:59 am
Wed April 8, 2015

E-Filing Probe Finds Few Georgia Tax Fraud Victims

So far, Georgia Department of Revenue officials discovered fewer than 100 Georgians have been victims of tax fraud when using third party filing systems.
Credit Ken Teegardin / Flickr.com/teegardin

During this tax filing season there have been problems with online filing systems and identity theft. But Georgia revenue officials say Georgians have been lucky, because the issues haven’t been widespread here.

In February, the Georgia Department of Revenue began investigating suspicious tax returns coming in from TurboTax and other third party filing services. But after examining those returns, department spokesman Nick Genesi says fewer than 100 were fraudulent.

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Politics
5:39 pm
Mon April 6, 2015

State Settles Fourth Whistleblower Lawsuit For $480,000

MaryTherese Grabowski filed the lawsuit against the Georgia National Guard and the State’s Department last year.
Credit atlexplorer / flickr.com/atlexplorer

The State of Georgia has agreed to pay $480,000 to the former public affairs chief for the Georgia National Guard. It’s the fourth whistleblower complaint the state has settled in the past few years.

MaryTherese Grabowski filed the lawsuit against the Georgia National Guard and the State’s Department last year. She claimed she lost her job after accusing Jim Butterworth, the former head of the Georgia National Guard of unethical and illegal conduct.

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Politics
6:15 pm
Fri April 3, 2015

Ga. Bicycling Bill Passes Legislature, Moves On To Gov. Deal

A bill passed by the state legislature last week allows riders to make their way through some intersections before a red light changes.
Credit TimothyJ / flickr.com/tjc

If you own a motorcycle or bicycle you could soon have a shorter wait at some stoplights. A bill passed by the state legislature last week allows riders to make their way through some intersections before a red light changes.

Whether you’re on your Harley or your Schwinn, you still have to come to a complete stop at an intersection.

But if you think your bike isn’t triggering the stoplight, you can go through the light as long as there are no other vehicles within 500 feet.

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Politics
5:32 pm
Fri April 3, 2015

Ga. Pit Bull Bill Fails, Cities Can Continue To Ban Breeds

Credit Hugo A. Quintero G. / flickr.com/haquintero

Cities and counties in Georgia will continue to be able to place bans on pit bulls or other dogs.  A bill that would have prohibited local governments from making laws about specific breeds of dogs failed to gain passage this legislative session. The bill passed the Georgia Senate, but never got a vote in the House.

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Politics
9:13 am
Fri April 3, 2015

Georgia's ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill Dead For 2015

Georgia's 'religious freedom' bill sparked protests outside of the Capitol building. The proposal didn't receive a vote in the Georgia House this year.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

One of the most contentious bills of this year’s legislative session failed to get final passage for the second year in a row. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act never made it out of a House committee.

Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, held on to the end and tried to attach the bill's language to an unrelated House measure. He argued the bill is needed to make sure the government doesn’t infringe on someone’s religious rights without a good reason.

“People of faith would be entitled to better treatment by courts,” McKoon says. “That’s the difference it would make.”

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Politics
6:16 pm
Thu April 2, 2015

Autism Treatment Coverage Bill Heads To Gov. Deal

Anna Bullard and her 10-year-old daughter Ava give a thumbs up after the autism treatment coverage bill passes the House.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

For years, the Georgia House and Senate have been at odds over autism treatment coverage. But today the battle ended. The Georgia House gave final approval to a bill that would require private insurers to cover the treatment for children six and under. The legislation now heads to Gov. Nathan Deal.

Senators continually pushed for the bill. Meanwhile, some House Republicans have raised concerns about the costs for small businesses. But last week, the two chambers struck a compromise.

Anna Bullard has been advocating for the bill for seven years.

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Politics
12:05 pm
Wed April 1, 2015

Ga. Senate Rejects Driver's License Ban For Undocumented Immigrants

Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, tried to propose an amendment to a House bill that would have barred those with deferred action status from getting a driver's license.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

On Tuesday, the Georgia Senate defeated a proposal that would have banned those with deferred action from getting a Georgia driver’s license.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program came from executive actions taken by President Barack Obama. It allows many who arrived illegally as children to temporarily stay in the U.S. and apply for work visas. Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, tried to add language to a House bill that would have prevented those with deferred action status from getting driver’s licenses.

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Politics
4:37 pm
Tue March 31, 2015

Autism Treatment Compromise Bill Gains Senate Approval

Dani Benni holds up a cookie in celebration after the autism compromise bill passes the Georgia Senate.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

Some Georgia families could soon get help paying for autism treatment. The state Senate approved a compromise bill on Tuesday requiring insurance coverage for young children.

The bill says private insurers would have to provide the treatment coverage for children six and under. The legislation caps autism insurance coverage at $30,000 a year. That amount will help Dani Benni of Marietta and her family.

“Elated, relieved. We’re relieved that this is finally happening,” says Benni.

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Politics
11:13 am
Tue March 31, 2015

Bills Stall As Georgia Legislative Session Nears End

The Senate Rules Committee decides which bills make it onto the Senate's rules calendar for a final vote in the Senate.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

There are several state bills that appear dead for this year, because they didn’t make it onto the list of bills that could be voted on by the Georgia Senate.

The legislation widely known as the Sunday brunch bill is one of those that appears unlikely to pass this year. The legislation would have allowed local governments to decide whether restaurants could sell alcohol starting at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. That’s two hours earlier than what’s allowed under state law now.

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Politics
7:13 am
Mon March 30, 2015

Solar Panel Bill Goes To Gov. Nathan Deal's Desk

The legislation would allow for homeowner's to generate a limited amount of solar power for personal use.
Credit Rob Baxter / flickr.com/30261607@N00

It will soon be easier for Georgia homeowners and businesses to install and pay for solar panels. That’s if Gov. Nathan Deal signs legislation passed by the state legislature.

Right now, it costs tens of thousands of dollars to install solar panels on your home or business. The bill allows Georgians to lease or get help with paying for those panels.

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Politics
6:37 pm
Fri March 27, 2015

Gov. Nathan Deal Signs Executive Order On Medical Marijuana

Gov. Nathan Deal issues an executive order that asks state agencies to prepare in advance of a medical marijuana law he plans to sign.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

State agencies are being told to prepare for the newly passed medical marijuana bill to take effect. It decriminalizes cannabis oil for Georgians with eight different medical conditions.

Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order that requires the Georgia Composite Medical Board to create two forms. The first form is a waiver for patients or guardians that says the cannabis oil has not been approved by the FDA. The second form has to be signed by a patient’s doctor.

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Local
6:00 am
Fri March 27, 2015

Ga. House, Senate Leaders Reach Compromise On Autism Bill

From left, Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, and Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, announce an autism compromise.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

For years, the Georgia House and Senate have been at odds over insurance coverage for autism. But now, they’ve reached a compromise.

Leaders in both chambers say a Senate plan, which requires insurers to provide treatment coverage for children six years old and younger, will be combined with another House insurance bill today.

The compromise would lower the cap on treatment coverage to $30,000. The bill also says the insurance requirement would go away if the state adopts a more comprehensive approach.

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Politics
5:05 pm
Thu March 26, 2015

T-SPLOST Reboot Plan Passes Georgia Senate

The penny sales tax referendum widely known T-SPLOST could soon be back, but in a slightly different form.
Credit Allison Guillory / WABE

The penny sales tax referendum widely known T-SPLOST could soon be back, but in a slightly different form.

On Thursday, the Georgia Senate passed a T-SPLOST reboot plan. It comes after the transportation referendum was defeated nearly three years in most Georgia regions, including metro Atlanta.

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Politics
6:28 pm
Wed March 25, 2015

DeKalb Cityhood Bills Greenlit By Georgia Senate

State Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody, said that if the map of LaVista Hills needs to be altered it can happen later.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

The proposed cities of LaVista Hills and Tucker are a step closer to reality. 

On Wednesday, the Georgia Senate approved two bills that would let voters decide on their creation. Both cities sit in what is now unincorporated DeKalb County. 

The Tucker map was approved without a fight. Discussion was more heated in the Senate over the LaVista Hills map. Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, tried to get parts of two neighborhoods along the proposed city’s southern boundary removed.

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Politics
11:21 am
Wed March 25, 2015

Autism Treatment Coverage Bill Stalls In Ga. House Committee

Sen. Charlie Bethel's bill to provide autism treatment coverage for Georgia's young children has hit a snag.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

Efforts to provide autism treatment coverage for young children in Georgia have hit a snag. A bill requiring private insurers to provide the coverage for those who are six years old and younger passed the Georgia Senate earlier this year. But the legislation appears to have stalled in a House committee.

The CDC estimates one in 64 Georgia children has been diagnosed with autism. It’s why the bill is one of the Senate’s top priorities.

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Politics
5:20 pm
Tue March 24, 2015

Medical Marijuana Measure Passes Georgia Senate

Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, right, celebrates with Shannon, center, and Blaine Cloud, left, and fellow families whose loved ones suffer from seizures, after the Senate approved Peake's medical marijuana bill.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

The Georgia Senate has passed a compromise bill that decriminalizes cannabis oil for those with eight different medical conditions. If the House agrees to the bill, it could be signed by Gov. Nathan Deal as early as Friday.

Following the passage of the amended version of HB 1, supporters celebrated with bill sponsor Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon. Peake has been pushing for medical marijuana legislation for two years.

“This is a great day. I couldn’t be prouder of these families,” Peake says.

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Politics
6:00 am
Tue March 24, 2015

Georgia Senate To Vote On Medical Marijuana Compromise

In this Feb. 7, 2014, file photo, Aileen Burger holds up a bottle of cannabis-infused oil used to treat her four-year-old daughter Elizabeth, who suffers from severe epilepsy, at her home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. At least 17 families have left Georgia to have access to cannabis oil for their children.
Credit Brennan Linsley, File / Associated Press

The Georgia Senate is expected to vote on a medical marijuana compromise. If senators say yes, it could soon be legal for some Georgians to use an oil form of marijuana.

If the bill is approved, cannabis oil would be decriminalized for Georgians with eight medical conditions. Those conditions include: mitochondrial disease, seizure disorders and Crohn’s disease.

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Politics
5:16 pm
Fri March 20, 2015

Georgia Transportation Plan Narrowly Approved By Senate

Senators took out a $25 fee drivers would have been required to pay when they renewed their tags in the transportation bill.
Credit Bill Rusham / flickr.com/bruhsam

On Friday, the Georgia Senate narrowly approved a transportation plan. The proposal was originally supposed to raise about $1 billion for roads and bridges, but a chunk of funding was removed. Senators took out a $25 fee drivers would have been required to pay when they renewed their tags. That fee along with ones for trucks and buses was supposed to generate more than $200 million.

“We heard from a lot of our constituents just something they didn’t like, so we took it out,” says Senate Transportation Chairman Tommie Williams, R-Lyons.

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