Angela Taylor sat across a table from Anne Fulcher and breathed a sigh of relief as Fulcher began the application that will lead to her getting health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Taylor, who will soon be a management trainee at a McDonald’s in Augusta, had been worried about getting enrolled before the March 31 deadline “because I have been working all the time,” she said. “I’m better now.”
As he and others in the area prepare for the onslaught of people trying to enroll before open enrollment closes, Craige Taylor-Burton knows what he will need.
“Lots of coffee,” said the enrollment specialist at Christ Community Health Services.
Officials have said all along that they expected a large number of people would wait until the last minute to try to get coverage through the new marketplaces, based on previous insurance enrollments.
In the 2012 open enrollment season for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, 22 percent made changes in the last two days, officials said earlier this month.
Enrollment through the new marketplaces reached 5 million last week, officials said, up from 4.2 million at the end of February and nearly equaling the number enrolled the previous month. Calls to the customer service center saw their highest volume since late December, when people rushed to get coverage that would begin Jan. 1.
“When there was that deadline to have your insurance start by the first (of the year), it was ridiculous with people trying to come in and get signed up,” said Candace Lee, an enrollment specialist at Christ Community. “There was that rush. I can assume there is going to be that rush again the week of and the last day. I will say that we’re going to get a lot of phone calls.”
Marco’s Pizza franchisee Woody Johnson operates three pizza chain stores across metro Augusta. Johnson and his business partner will add three more locations in the area by next summer, doubling the payroll to about 180 people, many of whom are part-timers paid the current minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
“Eventually, it’s going to get where we can’t grow more stores and we’ll have a difficulty just growing the stores we’ve got with employees,” he said. There have been three minimum wage increases in the past seven years. “So at some point for us, it’s going to kill growth, kill jobs,” he said.
And the nearly $3 per hour increase in wages would affect more than those making the minimum. At Green Thumb West Nursery and Garden Center in Martinez, the starting wage for David Bokesch’s team of 11 workers is $8.50 per hour.
Bokesch acquiesced that $7.25 is not enough to support a family, but wondered if raising it to $10.10 would make much of a difference.
“It’s a tough question,” he said. “I think it’s fine for politicians, especially in election years, to say things, but they’re not down in the trenches with small businesses. They don’t know what it’s like.”
Monday was St. Patrick’s Day, and on Tuesday the Augusta Commission found no pot of gold or enough four-leaf clovers to balance the budget or keep the city from going broke in a few years.
And there were no lucky charms to be found when the subject of exempting the sheriff’s office from the 2.4 percent across-the-board budget cuts came up.
At the previous meeting, commissioners had directed interim Administrator Tameka Allen and Finance Director Donna Williams to find money to keep the budget balanced as required by law and exempt the sheriff’s office from the 2.4 percent cut, which would be about $900,000 in real money.
All departments had been asked to identify how they’d make the cuts. Most had responded. Tax Commissioner Steven Kendrick plans to furlough employees and close tax offices for six days. The Richmond County Correctional Institution agreed to eliminate two full-time positions. Recreation would eliminate eight full-time employees, two part-time employees and count on the Patch golf course being privatized by mid-year.
Sheriff Richard Roundtree sent a letter stating Georgia courts have ruled that commissions can’t cut a sheriff’s budget to the point where he can’t do his job, an opinion the sheriff delivered in person Tuesday.
Rudeness topped the list of complaints the public has with Richmond County deputies.
Since the sheriff’s office started logging complaints at the end of August 2013, there have been 128, 31 of which were filed under “rudeness.”
“The majority of cases they’re not rude, just very stern,” said Capt. Calvin Chew, who heads the Internal Affairs Division that investigates any complaint against its nearly 300 officers.
Chew said most of the cases occur in a traffic stop when an officer speaks with the driver in a monotone voice, instead of being conversational. Some of the public feels it comes off as “cold or thoughtless.”
“There are times when deputies are rude and we address it,” he said.
Including complaints about rudeness, there have been about 23 complaints about misconduct or inappropriate conduct on and off duty and 12 complaints of excessive force. The remaining complaints range from citation disputes to reports of deputies speeding or not using traffic signals.
It’s one of the few things most liberals, moderates and conservatives are agreeing on: Common Core is a terrible idea.
The national K-12 education initiative – promoted by the Obama administration to replace a hodgepodge of state standards with a single set of learning goals – is designed to supplant the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act.
But critics from all points on the political spectrum share similar Common Core concerns: It undermines student individuality and teacher autonomy; puts too much emphasis on standardized tests; and sets the stage for a federal takeover of education.
Isn’t such a federal takeover illegal? Yes. The 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act forbids the feds from meddling in school curriculum development.
But the federal government, as it does too often, found a loophole. A state that agrees to adopt Common Core curriculum increases its likelihood of winning a piece of the more than $4 billion in education grants under Obama’s Race to the Top initiative.
Georgia’s opposition stalled this legislative term when anti-Common Core legislation backed by Rep. Tom Ligon, R-Brunswick, failed to pass the House Education Committee in the General Assembly. Similar bills in South Carolina and Mississippi also have failed.
That’s a shame, because Common Core is not the silver-bullet solution for educationally “underperforming” states that some people think.
People in the 45 states that quickly adopted all or parts of Common Core are seeing that. Bipartisan backlash in some states has been so fierce that the curriculum had to be rebranded as something else. Florida, for example, now calls Common Core the “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards”; Arizona refers to its program as the “Arizona College and Career Ready Standards.”
Common Core proponents – money-hungry education bureaucrats, big-business lobbyists and establishment-entrenched politicians from both parties – have tried to discredit critics. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s condescension dripped like condensation last year when he characterized opponents as mostly “white suburban moms” who discovered “all of a sudden, their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought.”
On the contrary – some of Common Core’s most cogent criticism comes from scholars at leading think tanks from the left and right, including the Heritage Foundation, the Hoover Institution, the Brookings Institution and the Cato Institute.
Many Common Core complainants are veteran teachers. If you asked your average teacher, you’d probably get this request first: Just stop tweaking education standards every three or four years.
Many educators are critical of Common Core’s overcomplicated processes to solve simple math problems (70 percent of third- to eighth-grade students failed the math test in New York, an early Common Core adopter). Teachers say areas of study are too rigorous for younger students; first-graders are taught about ancient civilizations, for example.
And some lessons are too esoteric; one special-education teacher told a national media outlet that one of her students’ tasks was to draw a picture of the word “nobody.”
Educators and parents have long complained that schools focus too much on “teaching to the test.” Is a newer and more meticulous version of that strategy really the solution?
Not all Common Core opponents are against holding students to a national yardstick. Those have been around for years – the SAT, Advanced Placement tests, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and others.
What they’re opposed to is implementing an untested, top-down set of standards created behind closed doors. It’s like introducing a prescription drug on the market without testing it for dangerous side effects.
CANTON — The Cherokee Board of Commissioners is addressing resident concerns of lighting and noise from the county aquatic center in Holly Springs.
Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to spend up to $40,000 to install new controls on the center’s dehumidification units to reduce noise from the machinery that has led to repeated complaints from nearby residents.
The board also approved seeking bids to plant about 90 Leyland cypress trees behind the center to eventually act as a barrier for sound and lighting, a step which is expected to cost about $40,000.
Both steps were the result of persistent complaints of nearby residents who have said their lives were disrupted by the aquatic center since it opened its doors in May 2013.
CANTON — A former economic development director in Woodstock was named as the sole candidate to be the new Canton city manager Friday morning, although two-thirds of the city council say they don’t think he has the experience for the job.
Billy Peppers, 32, was selected by a council search committee out of a pool of 41 candidates to replace former City Manager Scott Wood, who resigned in a controversial move minutes before the first meeting of the new council Jan. 2.
Despite allegations Peppers was picked before other candidates got a fair shake, Mayor Gene Hobgood said Peppers is more than qualified during a press conference Friday.
CANTON — As the dust settled at the end of the 2014 legislative session Thursday night, several bills pushed by Cherokee lawmakers made it to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk for a signature, while others couldn’t beat the clock before time ran out.
Among the bills that made the cut with Cherokee legislators behind them was a sweeping piece of legislation that opens the door for guns to be carried in more places and another that limits Georgia’s involvement in the Affordable Care Act. A bill that would ensure counties and cities have the ability to require candidates for local offices live in their district for a year — which has been an issue in Cherokee — didn’t pass for the second year in a row.
Rep. Scot Turner (R-Holly Springs) called the session a success overall, with several bills he’d been behind making it to the governor.
Turner, along with Rep. Michael Caldwell (R-Woodstock), was one of the signers on the Health Care Freedom and ACA Non-Compliance Act, which was aimed at limiting the federal health care law’s impact in Georgia. That bill, which Turner called “the toughest anti-Obamacare measure
passed by any state to this point,” would bar state agencies from implementing the health care law and is awaiting Deal’s signature.
Turner also carried House Bill 436, the local candidate residency bill. It passed the House and was carried by Sen. Brandon Beach (R-Alpharetta) in the Senate but didn’t make it out of committee. The bill would have ensured that local law requiring candidates live in their district a year before running could be enforced.
However, two pieces of legislation for the city of Holly Springs that Turner was behind did make it to Deal. Those bills will separate the city into geographic wards for council elections and change the term cycle of one seat on the council. The city has had an uneven election cycle, with three of five seats coming open every other election.
Rep. Mandi Ballinger (R-Canton) can claim victory after she carried a bill to mandate that strangulation is always charged as a felony in Georgia, a measure that easily passed.
She was also a signer on the Safe Carry Protection Act, which passed after hitting road blocks in the Senate for the second year in a row. The sweeping bill would allow churches and bars to make their own call on whether to allow guns, as opposed to the state dictating the rules. It also aims to let local school boards arm certain employees.
“It’s not as big as we wanted, but we’ll take it,” Ballinger said of the bill, which saw changes in the Senate after passing the House. “We’re very happy.”
Beach, who is also a member of the Cherokee delegation, supported the gun bill, which he believed will ensure Second Amendment rights.
Fellow Cherokee lawmaker Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) seemed pleased with the overall results of the session, though a few bills weren’t as successful as he had hoped.
Thompson said he wished the gun bill would have been a bigger expansion of gun rights.
“But we’re better off taking some steps toward our true Second Amendment rights than none,” he said.
While Thompson could accept the gun bill as it passed, he said he was greatly discouraged that a bill aiming to allow use of a non-psychoactive oil form of medical marijuana died at the last minute.
He was also disappointed that a bill to ensure insurance coverage for autistic children under the age of 6 didn’t make it. The medical marijuana bill had also been geared at helping children, with parents of children with chronic seizures from around the state rallying for it to pass.
“Politics at its best,” Thompson said. “It’s disappointing to me that we can’t set politics aside and help the children of Georgia. I apologize to the families of Georgia for (their government) not being more empathic.”
Your Georgia – Mercer March Madness – Desk:
So there is this: