Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for November 26, 2014

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for November 26, 2014

President George Washington declared November 26, 1789 the first “public day of thanksgiving and prayer.”

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

On November 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Fourth Thursday in November as the modern Thanksgiving celebration.

[I]t was not until 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to fall on the last Thursday of November, that the modern holiday was celebrated nationally.

With a few deviations, Lincoln’s precedent was followed annually by every subsequent president–until 1939. In 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt departed from tradition by declaring November 23, the next to last Thursday that year, as Thanksgiving Day. Considerable controversy surrounded this deviation, and some Americans refused to honor Roosevelt’s declaration. For the next two years, Roosevelt repeated the unpopular proclamation, but on November 26, 1941, he admitted his mistake and signed a bill into law officially making the fourth Thursday in November the national holiday of Thanksgiving Day.

On the same day, a Japanese navy fleet left port headed toward Pearl Harbor.

Transportation Funding

Senator Johnny Isakson wrote in the AJC that the federal government should consider moving to user fees to pay for transportation infrastructure.

With drivers buying less gasoline, the revenue coming into the Highway Trust Fund has dropped. Given these factors and recent trends, it is likely our gas consumption will continue to decline. Simply raising the tax rate on a declining revenue source isn’t the solution for our long-term infrastructure needs.

In 2015, we have a real opportunity to repair this broken trust fund and find a new formula that fits the needs of 21st century America. It is time we change the trust fund model to a “user-pays” system. Everyone who uses the roads and other modes of transportation financed through the trust fund should pay into the system.

I also support letting states set their own infrastructure funding priorities. While the federal government should prioritize projects important to the nation as a whole, states have a much better sense of their day-to-day infrastructure needs, and they should be given the flexibility to direct the use of gas tax revenues collected within their borders.

One way a user fee for highways can work is seen on I-85 in Gwinnett County, where a Peach Pass gets you access to the HOT lanes, which are usually moving faster than the prole lanes. Remember how that went over when it first started?

#FergusonAtl

Barricades CapitolSM

Last night, some Atlanta residents took to the street to protest the decision by a Missouri grand jury declining to indict a police office.

Atlanta Police Chief George Turner said more than 20 people were arrested.

Around 11 p.m., Channel 2’s Rachel Stockman walked alongside protesters near the CNN Center on Peachtree Street.

“It started down here on Peachtree. Everyone had a peaceful assembly at that time. From that point there were flags being waved. Officers emerged in, took the flags and threw them to the ground. This started an altercation. Four people were arrested at that time,” one witness told her.

Turner reported damage to a Meehan’s Irish Pub, a taxi cab and a Wells Fargo bank.

He had a message for protesters.

“I believe that we are better than what we’re seeing. The fact is if they are there, we will not leave our city unprotected. So we will be here to take care of our city,” Turner said.

A group of about 50 people branched off and blocked the connector around 8 p.m.

Probation Nation

Earlier this year, Governor Deal vetoed House Bill 837, which among other things, would have provided for tolling of probation if the probationer failed to report to his probation officer. An AJC article from April provides context:

Gov. Nathan Deal has suggested that he might veto a bill that would allow private probation companies, contracted by cities and counties across the state, to keep secret from the public details such as how many people they supervise and how much they collect in fines.

The private probation industry has grown into a $40 million a year business in the years since the 2001 Legislature shifted the responsibility for overseeing low-level offenders from the state to local courts. Many counties and cities hired private companies to supervise people sentenced for offenses such as driving without a license, public drunkenness or possession of small amounts of marijuana. Almost all those placed on probation couldn’t pay the fines levied as part of their sentences. Those who can pay are deemed to have fulfilled their sentences.

Last year, 14 former probationers sued Sentinel Offender Services, the largest of the 34 private probation companies operating in Georgia. According to the suits, Sentinel charged them fees for electronic monitoring and drug testing that the courts didn’t order. The lawsuits, which are being treated as one case, also said probationers — all poor — were threatened with jail if they didn’t pay.

The lawsuits recounted how the former probationers were taken to jail, sometimes years after they thought they had completed their sentences, and held until they paid their debts to Sentinel.

James Salzer writes in the AJC of the scope of private probation service use in Georgia.

Georgia uses private probation companies more than any other state. Those companies collect about $40 million a year in supervision fees from low-level misdemeanor offenders, primarily from people who didn’t have the means to pay court fines for offenses such as illegal lane change, drunken driving or trespassing.

One of the lawyers for the probationers called the system “cash register probation” because additional requirements are tacked on by the companies in order to increase fees they can collect.

Private probation company lawyer James Ellington argued before the court earlier this year that without the current system, municipal and state court judges would simply have to jail people who couldn’t pay fines immediately because there would be no way to enforce their sentences. Consequently, jails would become crowded and taxpayers would have to cover the costs of keeping low-level misdemeanor probation violators locked up.

[T]he Supreme Court ruling could affect all 32 companies in Georgia. The companies are supervising about 340,000 misdemeanor probationers statewide at any given time.

About 80 percent of Georgians on misdemeanor probation are supervised by for-profit companies. Many Georgians are placed on probation simply to give them time to pay off traffic fines they couldn’t afford on the day they went to court.

In all, the industry and its top employees have contributed or loaned more than $140,000 to state candidates, parties or judges since 2006, according to campaign disclosure records.

Earlier this week, the Georgia Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in the Sentinel Offender Services cases.

The Georgia Supreme Court said there was nothing inherently unconstitutional about counties hiring private companies to manage thousands of convicts on probation, but the justices said probationers could pursue a private probation company for, in effect, extending probationers’ sentences.

The unanimous decision by Chief Justice Hugh Thompson also left open the possibility that some plaintiffs—misdemeanor probationers in Richmond and Columbia counties—may be able to recover supervision fees they paid to the defendant Sentinel Offender Services, one of the nation’s leading providers of private probation services.

The case flows from 2000 legislation that transferred the supervision of misdemeanor probationers from the state Department of Corrections to individual counties. State law also allows counties to hire private companies to supervise and collect fees from misdemeanor probationers.

In their suits, the plaintiffs have contended that Sentinel unconstitutionally uses the threat of jail in an attempt to collect fees, with the company’s revenues tied to how long people are kept on probation and how many conditions are imposed….

Thompson said Craig had correctly concluded that the statutes relied on by Sentinel do not allow the tolling of a misdemeanor sentence. Although a state law allows felony probationers’ sentences to be tolled under certain circumstances, said Thompson, sentences for misdemeanor sentences are limited to one year and, once a sentence is served, a court loses jurisdiction over the defendant.

[P]laintiffs were mostly traffic offenders who were put on probation because they couldn’t pay their fees and fines the day they came to court. “We look forward to continuing in litigation against this industry which has historically profited at the expense of the poor,” Long said.

Feds Investigating Donors

A federal grand jury issued subpoenas to several donors to Jack Kingston’s Senate campaign over allegations that a foreign national and convicted felon bundled contributions to the campaign. The campaign returned the donations after questions were raised and is not a target.

The whistleblower, former Nue Medical employee Bill Miller, said he helped organize the fundraiser and a more intimate dinner with Kingston that followed. Miller said employees of the companies were given “bonus checks” before the event and were encouraged to pass most of the money along to Kingston. If true, such a “straw donor” scheme would violate federal law.

Official Georgia Marine Mammal to be protected

On April 2, 1985, the General Assembly designated the Right Whale as the Official Georgia State Marine Mammal, finding,

[In 1980], the coastal waters of Georgia were found to be the heretofore unknown calving grounds of the North Atlantic Right Whale, the only known member of the great whale group that is native to Georgia; and

WHEREAS, the discovery of the Georgia calving grounds is one of the most exciting discoveries in the study of marine mammal and will add to the knowledge that is vital to the survival of the species.

This week, it was announced that federally protected Right Whale habitat will be increased in 2016.

Only about 400 of these right whales remain. Around this time each year the females migrate from feeding grounds off New England to their nursery areas in Southeastern waters. But only a small portion of this range, including an area off the Florida-Georgia border, is protected as federally designated “critical habitat” under the Endangered Species Act.

In 2009 a coalition of environmental and animal protection groups formally petitioned NOAA Fisheries Service to expand habitat protections to include all of the whales’ nursery and breeding and feeding grounds, a more than tenfold increase, from roughly 4,000 square miles to more than 50,000 square miles.

The Fisheries Service acknowledged that expansion of critical habitat was needed but didn’t move forward at the expected pace. The agency had indicated it would issue a proposed rule in the second half of 2011.

Last spring, the four groups — Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation — filed suit in federal court in Boston to force action. The settlement agreement, filed on Friday, sets the 2016 deadline for the Service to act, though it doesn’t prescribe the critical habitat needed.

Right whale season in Georgia and Florida usually begins in November. From the Brunswick News two weeks ago:

Barb Zoodsma will be watching closely over the next seven days to find out what the looming back-to-back cold fronts forecasted for the region will mean for the annual North Atlantic right whale migration that starts every year in November.

Zoodsma, the southeast’s right whale recovery program coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said researchers know water temperatures impact when pregnant female whales head south to birth their young, so she is hopeful the cold snaps may get the whales moving.

By the end of November, she expects aerial surveys of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Georgia, South Carolina and North Florida will begin turning up sightings of the critically endangered species that seeks out water temperatures cool enough not to overheat the mothers, but warm enough for their calves to survive. Finding that happy medium is crucial to the survival of the species, of which there are only around 450 remaining.

Clay George of the Georgia DNR said boaters and fishermen should “keep a sharp eye out for right whales and give the whales their space. Driving slowly is the best way to reduce risk of whale collisions.”

Zoodsma stressed the importance of recreational boaters adhering to the federal rule that prohibits vessels from getting within 500 yards of a right whale.

Click here to visit the Georgia Department of Natural Resources – Wildlife Resources Division webpage on Right Whale conservation efforts.

Click here for the DNR-WRD webpage on Right Whale Recovery.

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