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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Politics
6:00 am
Fri February 27, 2015

Georgia Senate Says Cities Shouldn't Be Allowed To Ban Plastic Grocery Bags

Credit Jae C. Hong / Associated Press

Should cities and counties be able to ban plastic bags from grocery stores? The Georgia Senate said no Thursday. WABE spoke with local residents about the issue and took a look at the Senate fight over plastic bags.

Gerald Grady stands outside his car at the Ansley Mall shopping center in Midtown. He says the government shouldn’t be able to tell stores they can’t use plastic bags.

“I think it should be done on a local store level whether or not that should be banned or not,” Grady says. 

And when Grady shops, he prefers plastic over paper.

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Politics
6:00 am
Fri February 27, 2015

Senate Clashes Over Debit Card Pay Bill

The Georgia Senate approved a bill that would give employers the option of paying workers with pre-paid debit cards.
Credit Frankie Leon / flickr.com/armydre2008

There was a heated debate Thursday in the state Senate. At issue, a bill that would give employers the option of paying workers with pre-paid debit cards.

The bill says if a company decides they want to pay their employees by debit card they can do so, unless an employee tells them they would rather have a paycheck or direct deposit. Republican bill sponsor Burt Jones, R-Jackson, says companies need more options. And he says it will help low-wage workers without bank accounts.

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Politics
5:44 pm
Wed February 25, 2015

House Committee Scrutinizes Autism Treatment Coverage Bill

Under the popular Senate bill, insurance companies would have to cover autism treatment coverage for children six years old and younger.
Credit Ken Lund / flickr.com/kenlund

A popular state Senate bill requiring private insurers to cover autism treatment for young children was scrutinized Wednesday by members of a House committee. Representatives don’t want small businesses to pay more for insurance.

Under the bill, insurance companies would have to cover autism treatment coverage for children six years old and younger. Insurance Committee Chairman Richard Smith, R-Columbus, says small businesses can’t afford the extra costs.

“How do I go back home and say by the way, we just voted to raise your insurance premium,” Smith says.

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Local
4:32 pm
Tue February 24, 2015

Hot Car Rescues Protected Under Bill Gaining Senate Approval

A new bill in the Georgia Senate will prevent liability to anyone who breaks into a locked vehicle to rescue someone they believe is in danger.
Credit Pete / flickr.com/comedynose

Good Samaritans who help a child trapped in a hot car could soon be protected from lawsuits. That’s because of a bill that gained approval from the Georgia Senate today.

The bill says anyone who breaks into a locked vehicle to rescue someone they believe is in danger wouldn’t be held liable in civil cases. Senator Greg Kirk, R-Americus, decided to sponsor the bill after hearing about a number of Georgia children who died after being left in cars when temperatures soared.

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Education
6:00 am
Tue February 24, 2015

Teacher, School Board Groups Blast State Takeover Plan

The proposed plan would create a statewide district to oversee schools that perform poorly under state metrics for three years in a row.
Credit Briee Della Rocca / Bard College at Simon's Rock

There’s opposition among teachers and school boards to a plan that would allow the state takeover of failing schools. The proposal was put forward by Gov. Nathan Deal. It would create a statewide district to oversee schools that perform poorly under state metrics for three years in a row.

The Georgia School Boards Association spoke out against the proposal Monday. The group says the state should work with schools and school boards to improve the existing system instead of creating a new one.

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Local
7:14 am
Mon February 23, 2015

Georgians Could Soon Get Cheaper Arthritis, Cancer Medications

Humira is one of the medications that could be substituted.
Credit Justin R / Flickr.com/jsrcyclist

There may be good news for those who take costly medications for arthritis and cancer. The Food and Drug Administration could soon approve up to five, cheaper substitutes for those products. But before pharmacies can sell them in Georgia, state law has to change.

The Georgia Senate took the first step toward patients getting those drugs last week. They passed a bill that would let pharmacists replace what are called biologic medications with a lower-cost substitute of a similar makeup. Biologic medications come from natural sources.

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Politics
8:39 am
Fri February 20, 2015

Senate 'Religious Freedom' Bill Hits A Roadblock

A rolling billboard in opposition to "religious freedom" legislation circles the Georgia Capitol.
Credit Jason Parker / WABE

Controversial legislation that gay rights activists, religious leaders and others have been fighting over has hit a stumbling block. One of the “religious freedom” bills that’s making its way through the state legislature got hung up in a state Senate committee yesterday.

It was a procedural fight over a bill supporters say is needed to ensure government can’t infringe on someone’s religious rights without a good reason. Opponents say it could lead to the unjust treatment of gays and lesbians and protect child abusers.

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Local
5:00 am
Fri February 20, 2015

Driverless Car Bill Gains Momentum

Credit Steve Jurvetson / flickr.com/jurvetson

Driverless cars could soon be tested in Georgia. That’s because of a bill that cleared a Georgia Senate committee Thursday.

Under the bill, companies could test the vehicles on Georgia roads. It would also protect auto manufacturers from getting sued if someone is injured due to defects in vehicles that were converted into driverless cars. Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, says the legislation will allow Georgia to become a leader in driverless car technology.

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Politics
6:00 am
Thu February 19, 2015

Brewers, Distributors Battle Over Beer Bill

Credit Flickr/Jan Zeschky

Small brewers and distributors are at odds over a state Senate bill that would allow craft brewers to sell directly to customers.

If you go to a Georgia craft brewery right now, you can’t actually buy beer there or take it home. All that’s allowed is buying a souvenir pint glass for limited samples. David Larkworthy with 5 Seasons Brewing told members of a Senate committee that has to change.

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Local
4:36 pm
Wed February 18, 2015

Georgia Gets $1 Million To Push Careers In Manufacturing

Georgia got a million dollar check from the National Education Initiative to get more students interested in manufacturing jobs.
Credit COD Newsroom / flickr.com/codnewsroom

Georgia’s partnering with a private nonprofit to get more students interested in manufacturing jobs.

Georgia got a million dollar check from the National Education Initiative on Wednesday. During the next school year, middle and high school students will begin seeing videos and get lessons that promote high tech and factory jobs. The initiative will also provide student scholarships and training. Gov. Nathan Deal says it will help the state with its efforts to reduce a critical shortage.

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Local
7:04 am
Wed February 18, 2015

Senate Democrats Unveil Alternate Plan For 'Struggling Schools'

Credit Bruno Girin / flickr.com/brunogirin

Several Democrats in Georgia’s Senate released an education plan Tuesday aimed at helping struggling schools in poverty. The plan is supposed to be an alternative to a state takeover proposal for failing schools released by Gov. Nathan Deal last week.

Senate Democrats want to turn poor schools that are low achieving into “community schools.”

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Local
4:09 pm
Tue February 17, 2015

Comcast To Expand In Metro Atlanta

Comcast plans to add 300 new jobs in Fulton and Gwinnett counties.
Credit Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press

Comcast is expanding in Metro Atlanta. The company plans to add 300 new jobs in Fulton and Gwinnett counties. The announcement comes less than a month after Google said it would bring Google Fiber, the company's high-speed internet service, to the metro area.

Half of those positions will be added at a new regional headquarters the company will build in Peachtree Corners. The rest will come at a technology support service center in Alpharetta.

Comcast Regional Senior Vice President Doug Guthrie explains why the company is expanding in metro Atlanta.

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Education
5:12 pm
Fri February 13, 2015

Teachers Question School Takeover Plan

Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposal would create a statewide district for schools that perform poorly.
Credit Briee Della Rocca / Bard College at Simon's Rock

Georgia’s teacher advocacy groups say they’re concerned and want more details about a new state takeover plan for failing schools. Gov. Nathan Deal’s proposal would create a statewide district for schools that perform poorly.

Under the plan, failing schools could be closed, run by the new district or become a state charter school. The schools could also be jointly controlled by the district and local school boards.

Teachers have a lot of questions about the proposal. 

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Politics
5:33 pm
Thu February 12, 2015

Sex Trafficking Measures Pass First Major Test

Senators vote 53-3 for a measure that would put a fund that seeks to aid sex trafficking before voters in November of 2017.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

Voters are one step closer to deciding whether a fund should be set up to help victims of child sex trafficking. That’s because the Georgia Senate approved measures aimed at combating the sexual exploitation of children Thursday.

If the fund gains approval, it’s supposed provide counseling, housing and other services for victims of child sex trafficking.

Voters would also have a say on whether adult entertainment establishments should give 1 percent of their profits annually to the fund. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford.

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Politics
6:51 am
Thu February 12, 2015

Gov. Deal Proposes State Takeover Plan For Failing Schools

Schools could be taken over if they perform poorly under state Department of Education standards.
Credit Martha Dalton / WABE

The state could soon have the ability to takeover failing schools. That’s if a plan unveiled today by Gov. Nathan Deal passes the state legislature and gains voter approval.

If the statewide district were created, it would be led by a superintendent who reports directly to the governor.

Schools could be taken over if they perform poorly under state Department of Education standards. Under the legislation, a school would be considered failing if they score below 60 on the Georgia Department of Education’s College and Career Performance Index for three years in a row.

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Politics
4:47 pm
Tue February 10, 2015

Parental Custody Rights Could Be Waived More Easily Under New Bill

Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, speaks in support of a bill she says would help parents more quickly transfer temporary custody of their children to other Georgia adults.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

It could soon be easier for parents to give up temporary custody of their children to another adult. That’s as a result of a bill passed by the Georgia Senate on Tuesday.

Right now, parents need to go court to grant temporary custody of their children to someone else. Under the bill approved by the Senate, they would only have to sign a written power of attorney.

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Politics
7:03 am
Tue February 10, 2015

Adult Entertainment Industry Could Pay Into Fund For Sex Trafficking Victims

Under measures before the Georgia Senate, adult entertainment establishments would be required to pay 1 percent of their profits, or $5,000 annually, into a fund for those who have been sexually exploited.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE News

Georgia voters could get a say on whether a fund should be set up to help victims of child sex trafficking. Under the proposal, adult entertainment establishments would be required to give 1 percent or $5,000 of their annual profits to the fund. The legislation is on its way to the Georgia Senate.

The fund would pay for the care, housing and other services for those who’ve been sexually exploited. 

On Monday, a Senate committee said yes after hearing from a child sex trafficking survivor. She identified herself only as Rachel.

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State
12:15 pm
Fri February 6, 2015

Ga. Officials Seeing Fraudulent Tax Returns

Officials say the Department of Revenue has flagged a significant number of returns as potentially fraudulent.
Credit Ken Teegardin / Flickr.com/teegardin

The Georgia Department of Revenue is concerned it’s receiving a number of fraudulent tax returns. The department says those returns are coming in from third party vendors like TurboTax. Revenue commissioner Lynne Riley describes the situation as “fluid” and says it’s unsure how many fraudulent filings the department has received.

“But each one that has been filed we’re giving careful scrutiny, and we’re being overly cautious to make sure that we’re protecting each taxpayers return information.”

In the meantime, Riley says it’s continuing to process returns.

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Politics
5:35 pm
Thu February 5, 2015

Child Sex Abuse Victims Call For Change In Law

House Judiciary Non-Civil subcommittee hears testimony about House bill 17.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE News

A bill before state lawmakers right now would give people who were sexually abused as children more time to file civil lawsuits. This week, victims gave testimony to a House subcommittee.

Right now, Georgians who are sexually abused as children have until they’re 23 years old to file suit against their perpetrator. This bill would extend that to the age of 53. Supporters say the extra time is needed to give victims the courage to come forward. Angela Williams told subcommittee members she was abused by her stepfather.

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Politics
6:59 am
Thu February 5, 2015

Bills Seek To Help Sex Trafficking Victims, Penalize Pimps

Rep. Andy Welch (left), Sen. Renee Unterman (center) and Rep. Chuck Efstration (right) presented two sex trafficking bills on Wednesday.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

Several state lawmakers want to provide more protection and resources for victims of child sex trafficking. They also want to penalize pimps and others who sexually exploit children.

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Politics
6:46 am
Wed February 4, 2015

Law Enforcement Raises Objections To Medical Cannabis Oil Bill

Frank Rotondo, executive director of Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police (right) and Terry Norris, executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association (left), testify during a House committee hearing on medical cannabis oil.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

A bill that would decriminalize the use of medical cannabis oil for some Georgians was the focus of a hearing before a state House committee Tuesday. The legislation would allow Georgians with 17 medical conditions like cancer, glaucoma and seizure disorders to legally use the oil. 

The bill would limit the amount of THC, or the ingredient in marijuana that produces the high, to 5 percent for adults and 3 percent for children. Rep. Allen Peake assured committee members those who use the oil would not get high under those levels.

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Local
2:16 pm
Tue February 3, 2015

Senate Approves Education Bill For Dual Enrollment Students

Sen. Lindsey Tippens, R-Marietta, speaks in favor of the bill in the Georgia Senate.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

On Tuesday, the Georgia Senate unanimously approved a bipartisan education bill that would lead to changes in graduation requirements for high school students who also enroll in technical colleges and universities.

Supporters say right now high schools have one set of requirements and colleges have another.

If the bill gains final approval, the Georgia Department of Education would work with technical colleges and universities to merge the two.

Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-Marietta,  oversees the Senate Education Committee.

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Local
7:10 am
Tue February 3, 2015

Senators Begin Mulling Over House Transportation Plan

The Senate Transportation Committee starts discussing a House transportation proposal that was unveiled last week.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

A House plan that’s supposed to raise $1 billion for transportation was a hot topic among senators at the state Capitol yesterday.

The proposal, put forward by Rep. Jay Roberts, R–Ocilla, was unveiled last week. It would raise Georgia’s excise tax to 29.2 cents per gallon of gas and move away from state and local sales taxes on fuel.

A Senate committee began discussing the bill even though House lawmakers haven’t even taken it up yet. They also heard testimony on how the state’s current system works.

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Local
6:19 pm
Fri January 30, 2015

Local Leaders Concerned About House Transportation Bill

Under the current proposal, the state would raise the excise tax on gas and eliminate state and local sales taxes.
Credit futureatlas.com / Flickr.com

Some local leaders are raising concerns about a Georgia House plan put forward this week that would raise more than $1 billion for transportation.

Under the current proposal, the state would raise the excise tax on gas and eliminate state and local sales taxes. If the bill is approved in its current form, local governments could lose up to a 3 percent sales tax on gas. They could instead add a 3-cents-per-gallon excise tax on gas, and an additional 3-cents-per-gallon by referendum.

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Politics
7:08 am
Fri January 30, 2015

House Speaker Open To Vote On Autism Therapy Coverage Bill

Georgia’s House Speaker David Ralston says he’s open to a vote on the autism treatment coverage bill.
Credit Jonathan Shapiro / WABE

A proposal to provide autism treatment coverage for young children was overwhelmingly approved by the Georgia Senate Thursday. Lawmakers voted 54 to zero for a bill that would require private insurers to give coverage to children with Autism who are six and younger. The legislation could face a tougher road in the House. But Georgia’s House Speaker David Ralston says he’s open to a vote on the bill.

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Politics
4:35 pm
Thu January 29, 2015

Georgia Senate Greenlights Autism Treatment Coverage Bill

The Georgia Senate approved a bill requiring private insurers to cover autism treatment coverage for children six and under.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

Thousands of Georgia children with autism are one step closer to getting treatment. On Thursday, the Georgia Senate approved a bill 54 to zero requiring private insurers to cover autism treatment coverage for children six and under.

This is the second year in a row senators have gotten behind autism treatment coverage.  They say it’s needed as the prevalence of the disorder increases. Senator Charlie Bethel says in Georgia one in every 64 children has been diagnosed with autism.

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Politics
5:16 pm
Wed January 28, 2015

'Religious Freedom' Bill Debate Heats Up At Georgia Capitol

A rolling billboard in opposition to "religious freedom" legislation circles the Georgia Capitol.
Credit Jason Parker / WABE

Baptists are divided on “religious freedom” legislation that’s been proposed in Georgia’s statehouse. On Wednesday, dueling groups of Baptist preachers showed up at the Capitol to speak for and against the bill.

On one side of the Capitol, a large group of Southern Baptists gathered in support along with bill sponsor Rep. Sam Teasley. Sen. Josh McKoon, who plans to propose a similar bill in the Georgia Senate was also there.

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Politics
6:00 am
Wed January 28, 2015

Beer Sales Bill On Tap In Georgia Senate

Under current Georgia law, only distributors can buy beer from breweries.
Credit Flickr/Jan Zeschky

A state lawmaker is expected to file legislation today that would allow breweries to be able to sell beer directly to their customers. Under current Georgia law, only distributors can buy beer from breweries.

Right now, the only way to get a beer at a local brewery is to buy a souvenir mug and get free tastings. Sen. Hunter Hill wants to change that.  His bill would allow beer lovers to buy and drink up to six beers while at a brewery. Hill says brewers would also be able to sell the equivalent of a 12-pack per person to take home.

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Local
6:29 pm
Tue January 27, 2015

Medicaid Expansion Supporters Lobby At Georgia's Capitol

Members of Cover Georgia talk about the "coverage gap" at the Georgia Capitol.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE News

A coalition that’s been pushing for Georgia to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act lobbied at the state Capitol Tuesday. The groups say too many Georgians are falling into a coverage gap for health insurance.

30-year-old Jessica O’Quinn doesn’t qualify for Medicaid and is too poor to get tax credits under the federal exchange. She recently got sick and had to go to the hospital.

“They asked me if I was on any kind of insurance, and I said no, and know I’m going to billed for a lot of money I can’t pay.”

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Local
6:00 am
Tue January 27, 2015

Autism Treatment Coverage Bill Advances To Senate

Judith Ursitti from Autism Speaks testifies before the Georgia Senate Insurance and Labor Committee.
Credit Michelle Wirth / WABE

A controversial state Senate bill cleared its first hurdle Monday. The legislation would require private insurers to provide autism treatment coverage for children who are six and younger.

Judith Ursitti has two children with autism.  She’s also an advocate with Autism Speaks. Ursitti told the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee it’s heartbreaking to hear a pediatrician prescribe things like speech and behavioral therapy for your toddler only to find out they’re not covered by your insurance.

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