Georgia Rep. Jay Powell dies at GOP leadership meeting

House Ways and Means Chairman state Rep. Jay Powell has died on Monday after suddenly collapsing at a lawmaker retreat in Georgia.

Local lawmakers are praising the chairman of the powerful Georgia House Rules Committee, who died after suddenly collapsing at a lawmaker retreat.

Rep. Jay Powell died after collapsing at a Republican caucus leadership event Monday night at the Brasstown Valley Resort in Young Harris, House Speaker David Ralston said Tuesday.

“His loss is devastating to the state of Georgia,” Gov. Brian Kemp said in a statement.

Powell, 67, was an attorney who served as mayor in the south Georgia city of Camilla for a decade before moving up to the state legislature in 2009. An expert on Georgia tax policy, he spearheaded legislation signed in 2018 requiring larger retailers to start charging sales tax for goods purchased online.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, worked closely with Powell on the sales tax bill and the two shepherded the state’s first income tax cut through their respective chambers.

“Jay was the House Ways & Means chair when I became the (Senate) Finance chair, so we were counterparts,” Hufstetler said. “We worked well together; (the committees) had better communication than there had been in the past.

“I think part of it was that he was a former mayor and I’m a former county commissioner, so we were both sensitive to local needs. He’s gone too soon.”

Powell moved on this year to chair the powerful House Rules Committee, where he essentially decided which bills came up for a vote.

He also advocated for rural revitalization, including expanded access to broadband internet services, and previously co-chaired the House Rural Development Council.

Rep. Eddie Lumsden, R-Rome, served with him seven years in the Legislature, with three of those on the Council.

“I just sat next to him last week at the Rural Development Council meetings,” Lumsden said. “We spent two days together, talking about all kinds of things. I was shocked to hear this, and saddened. It’s a huge loss.”

Powell was remembered by politicians of both parties as a passionate advocate for Georgia.

Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams said: “Though Chairman Jay Powell and I stood on separate sides of the aisle, we worked together to advance good tax policy for Georgia and to support our local governments. He cared about community and getting good done.”

Ralston said that Powell served with “integrity and his leadership truly moved Georgia forward.”

Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, was working in Atlanta when she heard of Powell’s death and stayed to mourn and reminisce with friends who had known him. She was on the Rome City Commission when she first met the then-mayor through the Georgia Municipal Association.

“With a heavy heart, I am thankful of the true blessing and bright light of Jay Powell,” Dempsey said.

“He has been my friend since our early days in city government and our work together on the GMA Legislative Policy Committee, long before we became legislators that we once lobbied to champion local control ... I knew him as a joy-filled giant that I will miss more than my heart can measure,” she said.

The Towns County Sheriff’s Office requested that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation look into the death, GBI spokeswoman Nelly Miles said. “We should have more information available following an autopsy,” Miles said.

Rome News-Tribune Night Editor Diane Wagner contributed to this report.

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