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Particularly being considered is a regional transit authority that would help metro Atlanta transit providers, such as Gwinnett County Transit, which has a station off Interstate 985, with coordinating routes more efficiently.
“Everybody operates in their own silo and, when you’re talking about transit, you cannot just think about county lines,” said Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, chairman of the House Commission on Transit Governance & Funding, which has held public meetings throughout the state.
“You’ve got to think about how we’re going to move people across the whole region,” he said.
Tanner, also the House Transportation Committee chairman, said, “We have multiple different operators (driving) buses that are just passing each other on the road going to the same places, but all of them are being paid for … by federal dollars.
“With regional coordination of mobility, we can become much more efficient and effective.”
Currently, each agency houses its own records. The committee found the practice especially problematic in the healthcare and social services arenas, where many of the clients overlap.
“The more you delay, these silos become more and more entrenched.… I think if we don’t push the lever, we’ll be here next year talking about the same thing,” said Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford.
Sen. Chuck Hufstetler and Rep. Katie Dempsey, both Rome Republicans, co-chaired the Joint Study Committee on Transparency and Open Access in Government.
The group looked at the benefits of and barriers to creating a central warehouse of information available to analyze statewide problems and solutions. They adopted six recommendations and pledged to help push enabling legislation.
“I hope to continue this process in the session,” Hufstetler said. “And I also think we’ll have some legislators on both sides who understand this a little better now.”
The recommendations call for storing the data in a de-identified form — for privacy and security reasons — that complies with federal HIPAA regulations. That way, the report states, the information can be kept on tap for use in future projects instead of being destroyed.
In 2015 alone, she deposited more than $186,000 in cash into her own bank account, money that she stole from the city, Hale said.
Capetillo used different schemes. One that netted her more than $756,000 in cash was using customers’ accounts to steal cash payments for city services. In September 2014, she took $13,5000 from funds the Federal Emergency Management Agency gave to Grovetown to compensate for damages from the 2014 ice storm, Hale said.
A service Grovetown provided, cashing personal and payroll checks, gave Capetillo another way to steal from the city. Capetillo would give customers cash but instead of depositing the corresponding checks into the city’s bank account, she occasionally deposited them into her own account, Hale said.
Senior agency budget officials reportedly said they were not to use the words in preparing the next year’s budget documents. It emerged that similar prohibitions existed at other federal health offices.
The words included some that advocates argue are core to the mission of public health: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”
According to the Washington Post, instead of “evidence-” or “science-based,” one suggested substitution was “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”
The CDC’s new director, Brenda Fitzgerald of Georgia, responded to the furor on Sunday.
“I want to assure you there are no banned words at CDC,” she tweeted. “We will continue to talk about all our important public health programs.”
Facebook and Government
The ACLU is warning local governments and some federal politicians about their use of social media.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia sent a letter “threatening legal action” to U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-West Point, after the group says he illegally blocked people from commenting on his official Facebook page and deleted their posts, according to a release.
The ACLU is also threatening legal action against two sheriffs and a police department, and sent letters to the Habersham County Sheriff’s Office, Worth County Sheriff’s Office, Henry County Police Department and to Ferguson.
“Our democracy thrives when people can freely criticize elected officials — including yourself — so that the people you answer to can best determine whether you should remain in office,” reads the letter to Ferguson, which was obtained by the Ledger-Enquirer. “The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia (ACLU-GA) writes this letter to address your office’s apparent attempt to silence your own constituents in violation of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.”
The ACLU argues that Ferguson’s Facebook page counts as a “limited public forum,” and that Ferguson is legally prohibited from deleting comments or blocking viewers from his page.
“It is unconstitutional for your office, a governmental entity, to silence the voices of those with whom you disagree. Because your government Facebook page has been opened for any member of the public to post comments, it is considered a “limited public forum” under the law regardless of how your office might choose to characterize it,” the ACLU wrote in the letter.
Amy N. Timmerman, communications director for Rep. Ferguson, referred the Ledger-Enquirer to the social media guidelines published on the Congressman’s Facebook page.
The guidelines describe the page as a “moderated online discussion site and not a public forum,” and provide a list of forbidden comments, including profanity and vulgar language, commercial or campaign-related statements, posting identifiable information about another individual, spam and other stipulations.
a federal court weighed in on the question in a case with obvious parallels to Trump’s. It determined that the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause does indeed prohibit officeholders from blocking social media users on the basis of their views.
Davison v. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors involved the chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Phyllis J. Randall. In her capacity as a government official, Randall runs a Facebook page to keep in touch with her constituents. In one post to the page, Randall wrote, “I really want to hear from ANY Loudoun citizen on ANY issues, request, criticism, compliment, or just your thoughts.” She explicitly encouraged Loudoun residents to reach out to her through her “county Facebook page.”
Brian C. Davidson, a Loudon denizen, took Randall up on her offer and posted a comment to a post on her page alleging corruption on the part of Loudoun County’s School Board. Randall, who said she “had no idea” whether Davidson’s allegations were true, deleted the entire post (thereby erasing his comment) and blocked him. The next morning, she decided to unblock him. During the intervening 12 hours, Davidson could view or share content on Randall’s page but couldn’t comment on its posts or send it private messages.
“The Court cannot treat a First Amendment violation in this vital, developing forum differently than it would elsewhere,” Cacheris wrote, “simply because technology has made it easier to find alternative channels through which to disseminate one’s message.”
In a report issued Wednesday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said the transportation department violated a provision in the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, when it retweeted and liked a tweet that urged its followers to “[t]ell Congress to pass” certain legislation.
“Although DOT was not the author of the tweet, DOT, by retweeting and liking it, not only endorsed the message, but also created agency content,” the GAO wrote in a six-page report.
GAO cites a law that says the department shouldn’t used funds “for publicity or propaganda purposes … to support or defeat legislation pending before the Congress,” and that, the GAO concludes, is what happened here.
“Although DOT was not the author of the tweet, DOT, by retweeting and liking it, not only endorsed the message, but also created agency content,” the GAO wrote.
Congress wrote, “It is therefore recommended to the Legislative or executive Powers of these UNITED STATES, to set apart THURSDAY, the eighteenth Day of December next, for solemn THANKSGIVING and PRAISE; That at one Time and with one Voice the good People may express the grateful Feelings of their Hearts, and consecrate themselves to the Service of their Divine Benefactor”.
Former governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman will speak at 7 p.m., Jan. 25, 2018, as part of the Berry College Cecil B. Wright III Integrity in Leadership lecture series.
Her lecture “Women, Leadership, Power and Politics: Overcoming Obstacles,” will be in the Krannert Ballroom and is free and open to the public.
Whitman served in the cabinet of President George W. Bush as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from January of 2001 until June of 2003. She was the 50th Governor of the State of New Jersey, serving as its first woman governor from 1994 until 2001.
“My agenda is to make the Southern District of Georgia safer,” the 48-year-old Augusta native said as he works his way into his new offices overlooking Savannah’s Ellis Square. “We are not where we need to be or how safe the district can be.”
He pledged to combine federal resources with those of state and local agencies, including Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap, to combat what he sees as the evil created by a small number of people.
“I believe that the vast majority of our crime is committed by a tiny percentage of our population,” Christine said. “We’re going to lay the glove on that tiny percentage.”
And he concedes part of his challenge it to get those committing the crimes to understand the ground rules.
“I’m not certain they know where the red line is,”he said. “The red line is violence.. We don’t tolerate it and we’re not going to permit it.
“We’re going to be getting after doing that. We’re not going to sit by when neighborhoods are reporting hundreds and hundreds of shootings. We’re not going to sit by when that happens.”
He emphasized that while his office can do more to combat crime, it cannot do so without the partnership with state and local law enforcement agencies, which he said represent more than 85 percent of the law enforcement component.
“We have to be leveraging partnerships with these folks,” Christine said. “We don’t win this if we don’t fight side by side.”
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Dr. Ninfa Saunders, who oversees hospitals and clinics in Macon and other parts of Middle Georgia as the CEO of Navicent Health. Saunders is used to high-wire acts over government funding, but not so many programs at one time. And she did not expect this one to keep playing out so extraordinarily long.
“I never did. Never, never did,” she said. “I really thought when you look at the vulnerable populations, the children, I really thought this would pivot quicker.
“I always thought, I know how to navigate this. When you start dodging too many bullets, one of them is going to hit you and be fatal. You just don’t know which one it’s going to be.”
That program covers more than 130,000 Georgia children at any given time, and over the course of a year more than 200,000 Georgia kids benefit. It also covers pregnant mothers. The cut to Georgia in the first year is expected to be $427 million, according to the Georgia Hospital Association.
Other programs that expired include the Disproportionate Share Hospital funding program, which goes to hospitals that treat a disproportionate share of the community’s poor. That cut is set to take place unless it’s stopped: a reduction of $36 million in the first year, rising to $145 million within a decade.
Dr. Robert Geller, the chief of pediatrics for Emory University at Grady and Hughes Spalding hospitals, said their no-show rate for child patients had suddenly started to rise after the programs expired, and it is now one-quarter to one-third higher than normal. There’s no proof why, he said, but it’s reasonable to think parents are wary they’re going to have medical bills they can’t pay.
“My personal feeling is that many of these kids are children of hardworking parents that are underinsured, relatively low-income, who don’t have or can’t afford insurance who want to do right by their kids,” Geller said. He stresses that parents waiting until the kid is sick enough to hospitalize is not only tragic but costs more, as well as taking the parent out of the workplace to accompany the kid: “This is not a wise place,” he said.
“The pushback that I have heard is, ‘Well, people depend on their tax refund to pay their bills.’ A hospital bill is not a bill?” said Rep. Tom McCall, a Republican from Elberton who is sponsoring the proposal. “You went and got the services, and you are expected to pay.”
McCall said the bill would not apply to people who are making some effort toward paying off their debt.
“If you’re making $10 a month payments, you’re not on that list,” he said.
McCall’s bill was filed during the 2017 legislative session, but it languished in committee. It was not included in the House panel’s recent report, but co-chair Jay Powell, R-Camilla, said Wednesday that the council is not opposed to it.
McCall said this week that he’s spent the legislative break sharpening his argument for the new session that starts Jan. 8. He said he’s carrying the measure on behalf of his local hospital, which is struggling to hang on.
“The only way we’re going to be able to get out from underneath this is if they allow us some mechanism to collect money from people who could pay it,” said Chris Kubas, who sits on the hospital foundation board.
“What gets lost, what gets forgotten, is why we’re doing this,” [Elbert Memorial Hospital Board of Directors Chairman Daniel Graves] told lawmakers at a Senate Rural Georgia Study Committee meeting held Tuesday in Elberton. “If rural health care disappears, people die. People in Elbert County will die unnecessarily if we can’t find a solution to this problem.”
Graves urged lawmakers to consider tasking the revenue department with recouping the money owed to health care facilities run by hospital authorities. He said the hospital loses about $3 million to bad debt every year. Collecting just $500,000 of that, he said, will put the hospital in the black.
“I understand people will be mad about getting their tax refund intercepted, but quite frankly, I’m mad that we provide the service and we’re not getting compensated,” he said.
“I’m through with House Bill 271,” said state Rep. Don Hogan, R-St. Simons Island. “That bill jumped on me right out of the (House) Natural Resources Committee, and we discussed it. (Then-director) Spud (Woodward) from down here at (the) Coastal (Resources Division) and the rest of the (CRD staff) came up and did testimony after testimony before our committee.
“I thought it was a good bill when it got started out. The problem we ran into was trying to identify what some of the starting points … like the Johnson rocks … and sand dunes, trying to identify what a sand dune is. And when Irma got through with us, I don’t know if we had a sand dune left out there.”
When state Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah, pulled the bill from consideration in March, people including One Hundred Miles executive director Megan Desrosiers said the intervening months could provide the opportunity to properly rework the bill and produce legislation that could both pass the General Assembly and do the job intended. But there will not be movement on the bill in the coming term that begins in January.
Hogan said as he understood it, the bill was dead in the Senate and he would not support it, regardless.
“It is not going to be moving, according to the (Senate Natural Resources Committee) chairman,” state Sen. William Ligon, R-St. Simons Island, said. “There’s a lack of agreement — no one’s happy with it, so I think it’s going back to the drawing board. You may see a study committee that comes out of the Senate — probably have a joint committee with the House — to look at that issue and see what can be done and maybe we can arrive at a consensus on some of it.”
One bill that will be moving is the massive state adoption overhaul that also came to a sudden stop earlier this year. Ligon, in the Senate Judiciary Committee and close to the end of session, placed a provision in the bill that, in practice, would allow adoption agencies to refuse service to same-sex couples on religious grounds.
That amendment ended up causing some controversy within the committee and later the entire General Assembly, as a bipartisan group of state representatives rose to speak in the House against the amendment and the perception it threatened to derail around two years of hard work to completely restructure the adoption process to better serve children and families.
Those issues appear to have been worked out. As state Rep. Jeff Jones, R-St. Simons Island, spoke about the bill, Ligon’s body language remained placid.
“The adoption bill will come back this year — that’s H.B. 159 — and I understand that the objections that were raised in the Senate when that bill moved over have been resolved,” Jones said. “I don’t have personal, absolute knowledge of that, but I understand (those) issues have been resolved, so we’re moving ahead with the adoption bill.”
The transportation special purpose local option sales tax, or T-SPLOST, referendum will be on the May 22 ballot as part of the general election primary throughout an 11-county region. The 1 percent sales tax is projected to generate about $637 million in revenue over a 10-year period, according to the Middle Georgia Regional Commission.
If voters give the green light, collections would begin in the fall of 2018. The region includes: Macon-Bibb, Houston, Monroe, Jones, Crawford, Putnam, Twiggs, Peach, Baldwin, Wilkinson and Pulaski counties.
Seventy-five percent of the transportation sales tax proceeds would be used to pay for the current list of projects. The remaining 25 percent, roughly $159 million, would be divided up by local governments for officials there to decide how best to use on transportation investments, said Laura Mathis, executive director of the Middle Georgia Regional Commission.
There’s been a different vibe in this year’s T-SPLOST roundtable meetings compared to 2012 when the measure failed to pass, Mathis said.
At that time, the majority of voters in Houston, Putnam, Monroe and Twiggs counties opposed the measures. But with local leaders having more flexibility this year because the proposal was not mandated by state law, the discussions moved at a pace in which the government representatives felt comfortable, Mathis said.
“I think they really focused on having really good, solid projects on the list,” she said. “(There was a) collaborative, cooperative understanding of the needs of communities being different, but also being sure that each community has something that fits them.”
SPLOST funding is derived from a 1 percent special-purpose local-option sales tax that must be adopted by the Board of County Commissioners as a referendum and approved by county voters. A specific timeline and prescribed steps must be followed before bringing the matter to a public vote.
Officials in the municipalities that are located within the county are invited to meet with county commissioners to discuss SPLOST projects. The meeting must take place at least 30 days prior to the special SPLOST election. During that time period, the County Commission must adopt a resolution calling for imposition of the SPLOST. The resolution must include a list and estimated cost of each SPLOST project.
“Thank you so much to the historical society for this great kickoff for what I know is going to be a wonderful year,” County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash said during the event. “The look and the feel of many of the events as we go through the year is going to be different as we pull in the different threads of this rich, rich tapestry that is Gwinnett now.
“I’m just excited for us to be able to have a chance to highlight to the entire area, just what Gwinnett County today is all about, because it is not the same as it was in the past and it is not the same as it will be in the future.”
The kickoff event was the first of two major bicentennial-related events that took place in Gwinnett this weekend. The Duluth historical Society held another event Saturday at the Southeastern Railway Museum where the New Dawn Theater group staged a production based on the life of county namesake Button Gwinnett.
Nash and Lawrenceville Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson also unveiled a bicentennial torch that will be used in a yearlong, Olympic torch-inspired run around the county. The difference between the bicentennial torch and its Olympic counterpart, however, is that Gwinnett’s torch is lit with LED lights instead of an actual flame.
The torch run will begin at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday when it is carried on foot by high school track and cross country athletes, representing each of the county’s high schools, from the historical courthouse to the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center.
And it would be a long time before people in metro Augusta stopped lamenting the loss of the “nuclear renaissance” going on 20 miles south of town in Burke County.
“It would be a substantial detriment to the building of new nuclear across the country if we don’t build Vogtle,” said Brydon Ross, Southeast director for the Consumer Energy Alliance. “It’s our last best chance to build new nuclear in the U.S. If we don’t build Vogtle, we’re not going to be building new nuclear for a long, long time.”
Georgia’s five Public Service Commissioners are expected to decide in Atlanta on Thursday if Georgia Power and its co-investors should cancel the long-delayed project ratepayers have been funding since 2011. The new reactors were supposed to be finished this year for $14 billion but aren’t projected to go operational until 2022 at an estimated $25 billion.
The loss of those jobs would send a shock wave through the community, said Andy Crosson, executive director of the CSRA Regional Commission, a 13-county planning and economic development agency.
“It would have a major impact in an immediate sense,” he said. “In a long-term sense, we would lose those potential jobs and the indirect jobs that would come with those jobs.”
Crosson said each nuclear job supports 1.6 jobs in other industries. Based on his multipliers, abandoning units 3 and 4 would rob the economy of 800 direct jobs, 528 additional jobs and more than $33 million in annual payroll.
The loss of construction jobs would have the effect of pulling $115 million in annual payroll from the regional economy. That figure doesn’t count the hundreds of temporary contractors brought in every 18 months to refuel the reactors and perform scheduled maintenance. With a total of four operating units at one site, operators would constantly be preparing for the next maintenance and refueling period, known in the power industry as an “outage.”
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1579 in Augusta supplies the site with nearly 500 electricians. Barring a shutdown, that number would climb to 1,200 in March, when the most intense electrical work begins.
“There’s been interesting dialogue over the last many years that Georgia was never as red as some people thought it was,” she said on the show. “What few consultants have realized … is we have this very large Black Belt that runs through the state of Georgia. It spans through Columbus, Ga., which is deeply blue, through Macon, Augusta, (and) Athens is in there as well.”
“You have the opportunity to think about the state of Georgia by certainly maximizing turnout in your urban areas where you have a high volume of voters, but also edging off some of these rural red states by maximizing your vote in the Black Belt, and that’s exactly what they did in Alabama.”
“There are a lot of African American voters, but the point is, a lot of time people say ‘rural America,’ ‘rural Alabama,’ and we assume that it’s white. But (it means) agricultural communities, and there are large minority voters absolutely, but there’s just a lot of folks who think certain ways about what government’s role is,” the mayor said.
“When you have competitive races between strong Democrat and Republican candidates, you are going to have better government. So quit it with this one-party system. Balance and good government, that’s all I’m saying.”
Reichert has ordered homeless people to vacate the park by Monday, warning them that the city is “going to pick all of your stuff up,” he said. The mayor offered no suggestions for where the tent-dwellers along the Ocmulgee River might go instead.
“What I’m saying is … we have a place for them to go,” Ellis said, standing in front of the old Virgil Powers School at Hawthorne and Second streets. “We all know the story of the Grinch who stole Christmas … We have a man sitting at 700 Poplar St. who, at this Christmas season, is emulating old brother Grinch by taking homeless … and telling them they must leave … without having a place for them to go.”
A music video filmed at The Medical Center, Navicent Health, and performed by local doctors and clinicians has gone national.
The catchy tune is an original composition by local musician and composer Christopher Griffin, and Dr. Edward Clark, a pediatrician with the Beverly Knight Olson Children’s Hospital, Navicent Health, was instrumental in having the song produced.
The participants volunteered to record the song, participate in the video and promote the video to try to minimize heart disease and the stroke risk of Middle Georgians. The music video was produced locally by Big Hair Productions and funded by the Navicent Health Foundation.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, with no regard for race or ethnicity, according to the release. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in every four deaths in the U.S. is related to heart disease.
According to the American Heart Association, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the United States. On average, someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke every 40 seconds, someone dies of a stroke every four minutes, and nearly 800,000 people suffer a new or recurrent stroke each year.
Miller, who has been in the Senate since 2010, served as Gov. Nathan Deal’s floor leader. [Senator David] Shafer, R-Duluth, gave up his leadership post to run for lieutenant governor, hoping to replace Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who is running for governor.
Miller could not immediately be reached Thursday.
“This is a great leadership team that will work well together to advance Georgia,” [Lieutenant Governor Casey] Cagle said in a statement.
Miller had considered running for lieutenant governor in 2018, but he decided against it. His promotion to second-in-charge futher cements Gainesville’s dominance at the statehouse. Deal, Cagle and Miller are all from the Hall County city.
KSU Provost Ken Harmon will serve as interim president while the University System conducts a national search for Olens’ replacement.
The Board of Regents’ review into KSU was launched following the university’s decision to keep five cheerleaders who kneeled in protest during the national anthem at a Sept. 30 home game off the field before kickoff in subsequent matchups.
“Challenges to the institution were evident as I began my tenure and these trials, coupled with internal trepidations, made for a very difficult start,” Olens said in a statement announcing his resignation.
Transportation spending, teacher raises and cash for rural broadband development — Hall County’s state lawmakers offered a glimpse of Georgia’s 2018 legislative session on Thursday.
With state government seeing tax revenue climb amid economic prosperity, the issues before state government this year focus on how to capitalize on growth rather than stave off decline.
The Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s annual Eggs and Issues breakfast featured Sens. Butch Miller and John Wilkinson, and Reps. Lee Hawkins, Matt Dubnik, Emory Dunahoo and Timothy Barr running their large audience through the issues and legislation coming up in the 2018 session that begins Jan. 8.
Right up front was the state’s budget, which is expected to grow 5 percent next year, according to Dunahoo, R-Gillsville.
Dunahoo said he expects to see an increase of $514 million in state education spending in 2018, or more than 40 percent of the new revenue next year.
“This includes $162 million for a 2 percent rate for our teachers,” he said.
Miller, R-Gainesville, also took a stance against lowering the age requirement of the school tax exemption. The state tax exemption for local property taxes is open to residents at 62 years of age, or three years earlier than retirement age.
“If we continue to lower that tax exemption for schools, we will not be able to continue to fund our schools,” Miller told the audience. “All of us went to school and most of us went to a public school. Someone before us paid their taxes in order for us to go to a public school.”
[State Rep. Lee] Hawkins [said] Georgia needs to expand light rail lines throughout the state.
“In the northern states, they developed this 100 years ago,” he said. “Unfortunately, our MARTA system was not developed along the same ideas — going to places of employment — but more about shopping.”
A commuter-focused rail line would “move a lot more people more efficiently” in the state, Hawkins said.
Miller, however, said in the short term the state needs to focus on making transit more efficient. Georgia has four major transit systems in metro Atlanta.
MCSD Superintendent David Lewis presented the list of 10 concerns during Thursday’s meeting the Muscogee County School board conducted with the Columbus legislative delegation. In no particular order, Lewis said, the district’s priorities are:
1. “Release local school districts to pursue other health care options for their classified employees outside of the State Health Plan.”
2. “Improve the Public School Employee Retirement Savings plan.”
MCSD contends this plan is “inadequate and produces very little income for long-service retirees from custodial, plant service, food service and bus driving positions.” The district recommends a plan that rewards long-service personnel.
3. “Adjust QBE funding.”
QBE is the Quality Basic Education act, which prescribes the state’s funding formula for its public school districts. It’s 37 years old, needs updating and never has been fully funded, critics insist.
Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah, pre-filed a bill that would penalize people for supplying guns to felons. House Bill 657 would make it a felony for any person to “knowingly and intentionally provide a firearm to a felon.”
“So many of these felons in our community — who have already lost their right to keep and bear arms — are being provided firearms by their family members, their girlfriends, or buddies,” Petrea said during a Thursday press conference with Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap and Savannah Alderman Julian Miller. “These individuals know that they are providing firearms to felons. This is the population we need to target if we’re going to stop gun violence in this community.”
Under current Georgia statute, a person can be charged with a misdemeanor for giving a gun to a felon and can face up to 12 months in jail. Petrea’s bill would increase the punishment to one to five years in jail.
“It is not to target citizens who are law-abiding gun owners who are responsibly keeping and carrying firearms,” Petrea said. “The problem in our community is a very small demographic of felons who continue to commit crimes over and over again.”
The state representative says he’s not worried about the bill’s passage during the next legislative session. Savannah-Chatham Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin and Rep. Carl Gilliard, D-Garden City, already expressed support for the bill, Petrea said.
On the other side of the capitol, Sen. Lester Jackson says he’s working on a bill that would allow law enforcement to destroy seized weapons. Under current state law, agencies can house weapons for six months before turning them over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Jackson said.
“The GBI in turn sells them to a third party,” he said. “They wind up in pawn shops or those guns shows. Many of them return on the street. My legislation would give sheriffs or police departments discretion to destroy those weapons especially if they are commonly used in violent offenses.”
Jacob Oster, a lobbyist with expertise in “clean energy and technology,” registered Dec. 7 with the state ethics commission. Oster, who represents Amazon Corporate LLC, listed addresses in Washington, D.C., and Seattle.
It’s unclear on what issues or upcoming legislative proposals Oster might represent Amazon, but his registration is the buzz of economic development circles.
Amazon is a growing employer in Georgia, operating distribution hubs for its e-commerce network, as well as a corporate hub for its Amazon Web Services division.
It’s unclear the last time Amazon had an in-house lobbyist at the Gold Dome. The company has been represented by outside groups, including veteran Georgia lobbyist Graham Thompson, for some time. But the timing of the company adding an in-house lobbyist in Georgia is intriguing.
Tunnels, elevated highways, transit and autonomous vehicles are all possible parts of Georgia’s transportation future, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle told the Gwinnett Chamber this week.
“The future is going to be built while making sure we are building the infrastructure that can sustain the kind of growth, sustain the kind of prosperity that we want for our state,” Cagle said. “That means that, yes, we’ve got to be willing to go under, we’ve got to be willing to go over and around.
“When I say that, I mean, yes, we’re going to have to explore tunnels. We have to look at elevated road systems. We have to be in a position where we utilize our assets in the most efficient ways through reversible lane projects, putting a high priority to get into the city in the a.m. time frame and out of the city in the p.m. time frame.”
He broached the issue of transit, which is becoming an increasing topic of conversation among elected officials, particularly in metro Atlanta, who are struggling to deal with increasing traffic issues, including gridlock. Cagle called it a “tool in the toolbox,” and said autonomous vehicles will also have a role to play in the future.
“What you decide to do is your decision,” he said. “I just want to touch on this for a moment because I do think it is important. Often times, I think we look at something in a way that we see it today versus the way we see it in the future. All of us that have been to Europe have seen something that is very, very different in transit and in rail than what we have in Georgia.”
Toshiba has held up their end of the bargain, paying out $3.68 billion to Plant Vogtle co-owners Georgia Power, Oglethorpe Power, MEAG Power, and Dalton Utilities.
Toshiba, the parent company of Westinghouse Electric, originally agreed to make monthly payments through January 2021 but, under a new agreement reached earlier this month, delivered all remaining installments in a single payment of approximately $3.225 billion on December 14. Georgia Power’s proportionate share of the payment is $1.47 billion.
Parent guarantees were put in place to protect Georgia electric customers as part of the original contract for the Vogtle nuclear expansion. The payments will reduce the total cost of the plant for Georgia Power by approximately $1.7 billion with every dollar received from Toshiba being used to benefit customers.
Mayor Rufus Davis and Camilla City Councilwoman-elect Venterra Pollard have threatened to sit out future City Council meetings to draw attention to what they contend is “widespread discriminatory and segregationist practices; a new city charter; and the passive representation of certain officials, who are not serving their constituents.”
The City Council adopted the amended city charter Monday evening, which, according to a news release from Davis’ office, will “vest very strong, unprecedented powers in the city manager, which takes away from the already limited powers of the mayor and the City Council. The new charter will allow the city manager, among other things, to appoint all members to all of the city’s boards, all commissions, all committees, chairs, officers and the city attorney,” Davis wrote in a release he sent to media.
Pollard and Davis said the new charter would further minimize the power of the mayor and the council.
“This is no longer time for dialogue with North Korea,” said Japanese Consul General to the Southeast, Takashi Shinozuka, to Rome business leaders Thursday. “This is time to give them pressure, pressure and more pressure.”
Shinozuka, in a presentation to the Rome Rotary Club, said he is hopeful the international community, including China, can work together to deal with the North Korean threat.
The Consul said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump have already developed “a very good chemistry.”
In Georgia alone, Shinozuka said 640 Japanese companies have invested nearly $12 billion and provide close to 36,000 jobs.
Shinozuka revealed that Japanese Emperor Akihito, 83, has agreed to step down at the end of April in 2019 and pass the baton of the oldest continuous monarchy to his son Crown Prince Naruhito. The Emperor has no political power in Japan and is not considered the Head of State.
The Brookhaven City Council on Tuesday night approved several steps that will enable Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to move forward with its planned $1 billion North Druid Hills campus.
The 72-acre campus will serve as a catalyst for more than $40 million of transportation improvements in the surrounding area, officials said.
“We are thrilled to be in Brookhaven,” said Children’s CEO Donna Hyland in a statement. “This partnership will allow us to do what we do best – get children better, faster – while also having a transformative effect on the health, safety and wellness of our neighbors in Brookhaven, DeKalb County and beyond.”
“Our partnership with Children’s allows us to accelerate several key projects of vital importance to Brookhaven, while retaining and growing one of our largest employers,” said Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst in a statement. “Children’s campus is going to change our community in a positive way, but this cannot compare to the life-changing effect it will have on children from across the region and state.”
The Congress, in session at the capital of Philadelphia when Washington’s death was announced, immediately adjourned. The House of Representatives assembled the next day and resolved to shroud the Speaker’s chair in black and have members wear black during the remainder of the session. On December 23, John Marshall speaking for the joint committee of both houses, presented five points that became the foundation for the United States’ first “state” funeral. Resolutions structured mourning events around public commemorations that fostered unity and a sense of national identity among grieving Americans.
According to the Lee County School System, the Stricklands paid off the entire balance of lunch charges for the entire school system at the end of the day Tuesday, leaving all students’ accounts free and clear for the Spring semester.
“S&S Roofing and Construction — Michael and Sarah Strickland — are very appreciative of our great community, from our school system, police, firefighters, EMS, parents, children, and businesses,” the school system wrote in a release on Facebook.
“Growing up as a child of a school superintendent, I quickly learned how precious school lunch is to so many children. This community has supported our company and allowed us to grow in ways Michael and me only dreamed of,” Sarah Strickland wrote on Facebook. “The least we could do is show our appreciation for not only the school system, but for the people that make up our great community.”
That’s one reason why local business ownership is so important.
“The legislative session is going to be busy and this will be a little bit of a bittersweet session in that, obviously, I will not be returning as lieutenant governor (in 2019) and of course the governor, Gov. Deal, will also not be returning,” Cagle said. “Anytime you’re wrapping up a season or chapter in your life, certainly it invokes certain emotions.
“But, you also look to what those new chapters and seasons that are ahead of you.”
State legislators are expected to tackle tax reform, recommendations from the state’s healthcare task force and the opioid crisis, the lieutenant governor said. He also said he will seek to have at least the Senate address broadband gaps in rural Georgia, coming off a taskforce that looked into the matter, and investing in venture capital for companies.
Tax reform, in particular, is expected to a key topic as lawmakers in Washington D.C. workout a major overhaul of the federal tax code.
“It gives us a wonderful opportunity as a state to really cast a greater vision for what our tax reform could look like,” Cagle said. “Every year, we have a house-keeping bill that would align our tax code with what the federal government is doing and so this will be, I assume, a very large debate and conversation throughout the session, and I think it’s one that is long overdue.”
Other issues that Cagle highlighted are expected to be tackled by members of the Senate. The opioid issue is expected to be tackled by an omnibus bill that Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, will likely file during the first weeks of the session.
“Sadly enough, we don’t have access to broadband in many of our rural communities,” Cagle said. “That’s difficult for some of us to recognize in the areas that we do (have access), but today we’re no longer bound by bricks and mortar. We can do business anywhere in the world, from any corner of our state, if we have access to that super highway.”
Senator Renee Unterman (R-Buford) spoke to the Gwinnett Daily Post about opioid legislation.
Unterman, who leads the Senate Health and Human Services committee, has been working on the legislation, which she said will be an omnibus bill. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle announced earlier this fall that he and Unterman would be working on legislation to address the opioid issue, which was named a public health emergency by President Donald Trump in October.
“It should be ready right at the first week of the session — hopefully,” Unterman told the Daily Post in an interview last week. “It’s such a big issue that it’s hard to put it together.”
Unterman said the legislation that she is working on will address recovery centers, patient brokering, access to NARCAN — which is an agent used to counteract and reverse an overdose — and insurance fraud. The fraud issue, she said, involves doctors ordering more urine tests than are needed.
“So it’s like an omnibus bill and I’m putting it together now,” Unterman said. “It’s really complicated. Right now we have a moratorium on methadone treatment centers. We’ve been getting a lot of complaints about that and how we’re going to implement that.
“I mean here you are in the middle of a crisis and there’s a lot of conflict in communities across the state about the treatment centers and access to care. That’s one of the biggest problems.”
“This is our No. 2 priority in the Republican caucus so it should get a good deal of prioritization,” Unterman said.
Introduced to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee by Georgia’s U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, Branch—who has served on the state appellate bench for five years—testified at her confirmation hearing for an open slot on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit that has been held for two decades by Georgia’s Frank Hull.
She also fielded multiple questions seeking the extent of her embrace of constitutional originalism and textualism and how that judicial philosophy might shape her rulings as a federal appellate judge.
Branch, whom President Donald Trump nominated to the Eleventh Circuit last September, agreed that her judicial record reflected her originalist bent. But she also attempted to assure Democratic committee members, who expressed skepticism that the philosophy was too narrow or overly simplistic, “At the end of the day, I am bound by U.S. Supreme Court precedent.”
Citing the late Supreme Court justice and ardent originalist Antonin Scalia and newly-minted Justice Neil Gorsuch, Branch said that, in following the rule of law, “A judge is going to render decisions that sometimes the judge is pleased with and sometimes is not so pleased with.” Once that ceases to be the case, she added, “Perhaps it’s time to find another job. Or retire.”
Said Branch: “With respect to the separation of powers, sometimes there are situations where I wish a statute were worded differently. But I can’t do anything about it. It’s not my job.” In some cases, she continued, “I have pointed out to the Georgia General Assembly … that if they want to fix it, that is their job to do so.”
Branch said she intends to abide by “what the drafters [of the U.S. Constitution] meant when the words were drafted.”
“At the time the Constitution was drafted and ratified, there were a lot of historical source materials,” she said. “We are not writing on a blank slate. We can actually go back and see the notes and see what the founders meant and intended.”
“Keep in mind that the ultimate goal of this group – the ultimate goal – is empowering private business to expand and grow jobs in rural Georgia and lift the quality of life for a major, major part of this state,” he also said. “And that’s what we have to keep our eye on.”
Wednesday marked the culmination of a series of meetings held across the state since May. The council’s work is expected to lead to as many as five major bills this session that are focused on workforce development, broadband deployment, economic development, education and health care. Other smaller bills are also likely.
Specific ideas include proposals such as creating a tax break for people who move to counties with a steady stream of residents leaving. It’s an incentive especially meant to attract high-wage professionals to rural communities.
Or easing requirements in the state’s certificate of need program, which controls how many health care facilities can crop up in one area. That proposal is designed to give rural hospitals more flexibility to operate as small-scale “micro hospitals.”
Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, who co-chairs the council, said no recommendation takes priority over another.
“It’s a package,” Powell said after Wednesday’s meeting held in Milledgeville. “There are some things that are going to be a harder lift than others.”
Wednesday’s first order of business was the discussion of a “Rural Relocate and Reside” initiative, a program designed to give incentives to people moving to rural areas. The resolution would provide a one-time 10-year income tax deduction up to $50,000 for new residents of counties experiencing less than five percent population growth over five consecutive years. The measure would also allow local governments to provide new residents with a one-time 10-year abated property tax exemption, as well as a 10-year state income tax exemption up to $100,000. Representatives said the incentives are designed to attract high-earning professionals like doctors, lawyers, and accountants to rural Georgia by letting them keep much-needed capital to start their own businesses and practices.
“In my home county, Mitchell County, we have a plant that employs 2,200 people. That’s a great thing, but all of the upper management lives somewhere else,” said Co-Chairman [Jay] Powell. “We’re missing the resources that those people who have great organizational skills and are obviously very highly motivated [can bring].”
In the final category discussed at Wednesday’s meeting, representatives discussed the various problems facing rural hospitals and healthcare providers. House researchers report that 79 Georgia counties currently lack a practicing OB-GYN, 66 lack a general surgeon, 63 lack a pediatrician, and six lack any physician whatsoever, a problem that exists simultaneously with rural hospitals’ difficulties collecting payment amid rising healthcare costs. Representatives called for the elimination of a law that bars patients from seeing medical specialists on the same day they are referred by general practitioners, as well as the creation of a uniform billing platform for patients statewide. Rural practitioners who complete a mandatory certification, employ a physician’s assistance, accept Medicare and Medicaid, and operate under extended hours would also be given decreased premiums. The provision calls for the creation of a Rural Center for Health Care Innovation and Sustainability to provide leadership for rural providers, as well as rules for 24-hour “micro-hospitals” in communities without full scale medical centers. Rep. Sharon Cooper (R- Marietta) cited a lack of practicing midwives in Georgia’s rural areas, and called for a tuition abatement for nurses to be trained in the relevant classes.
The biggest tax breaks would go to rural newcomers with the highest incomes. That’s by design in an effort to attract business owners, doctors and professionals to rural areas, said Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, the chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. But tax breaks would also be available to anyone who relocates, regardless of their incomes.
“You’re not going to create jobs if you don’t have the people,” Powell said. “We can attract people to move into a community by giving them tax deductions and giving them residential real estate tax abatements.”
Costs to taxpayers and other details of the plan are unclear until specific legislation is introduced and evaluated. The incentives would be available to residents who move to any of the state’s 124 counties with less than 5 percent population growth over five consecutive years:
Alone, none of the initiatives will make a significant difference in the quality of life in rural Georgia, said state Rep. Jay Powell, a co-chairman of the council. But together, the combination of a professional workforce, fast internet and health care access would create the conditions for business growth, he said.
Powell, who is chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, said the income tax breaks come in the form of deductions that would mostly help people with higher incomes such as doctors and business owners, but they’re the type of leaders that struggling communities need.
“You’re talking about people who are going to be providing services, paying sales taxes, buying property and investing in the community,” said Powell, R-Camilla. “I would think the rural broadband would not be controversial. Giving tax credits for folks to move to a location might be.”
On December 13, 1636, the Massachusetts Bay Colony General Court organized three regiments of militia to guard against attacks by the Pequot Indians. That day is recognized as the birth of the National Guard.
Arnall also led the fight to outlaw the poll tax and the white primary, and is noted for making Georgia the first state to allow 18-year-olds to vote. He is further remembered for his role in obtaining a new state constitution for Georgia in 1945.
“I am grateful for the tireless work and thorough research done on behalf of young Georgians by the Commission on Children’s Mental Health in preparing this report,” said Deal. “At its outset, I charged the Commission with assessing Georgia’s approach to evaluating children’s mental health and recommending appropriate steps we can take in the future. These recommendations will provide guidance for our efforts to improve the continuum of care for children’s behavioral health services. I look forward to reviewing these recommendations to see how we may achieve our objectives and provide all children in Georgia with the best opportunities to grow up as healthy, productive members of society.”
In creating the report, the Commission received recommendations and feedback from around the state. Georgia’s Interagency Directors Team, a multi-agency group of child and adolescent experts established by the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, will be charged with facilitating an implementation plan for the recommendations in the report.
The recommendations outlined in the report include:
• Increasing access to behavioral health services for Georgia’s school-aged children by sustaining and expanding the Georgia Apex Program for school-based mental health.
• Fund Supported Employment/Supported Education programs for youth and emerging adults with severe mental illness.
• Providing support for the development and implementation of additional levels of support within the behavioral health continuum of care for youth with the highest levels of need.
• Strategically increasing telemedicine infrastructure capacity for child-serving, community-based, behavioral health provider organizations in order to improve access to children’s behavioral health services.
• Investing in coordinated training for priority areas of interest and concern for the child-serving workforce, including clinical training in evidence-based practices, trauma-informed care and administrative practices that support the delivery of high-quality behavioral health services across service settings.
• Funding expanded provider training, fidelity monitoring, technical assistance and evaluation for evidence-based High Fidelity Wraparound.
• Supporting multi-pronged early intervention and prevention approaches to combat the opioid crisis among Georgia’s youth and emerging adults.
• Supporting a multi-pronged suicide prevention approach, including the expansion of prevention programming and expansion of Georgia Crisis and Access Line hours, to reduce rising suicide rates among Georgia’s youth and emerging adults.Read the full report here.
The report’s recommendations do not include a dollar figure, but several of the initiatives involve significant expansions of existing programs. The governor said in a statement the findings will help guide his proposals to “improve the continuum of care for children’s behavioral health services.”
Deal, who is entering his final legislative session in office, often uses reports from commissions he forms to serve as the backbone for funding blueprints and legislative packages.
He cited another council’s report for his decision earlier this year to add $2.5 million in additional mental health funding for young children.
Sue Smith, executive director of the Georgia Parent Support Network, praised Deal and the commission for its work.
Commission members, she said, “spent countless hours reviewing Georgia literature and listening to community members from all walks of life. Much time and effort has gone into this careful study, which concentrates of how to best provide services for Georgia’s children with mental health needs. The eight recommendations address areas where program growth will immediately benefit Georgia’s youth while building a strong foundation for future growth.”
Members of the commission were Judy Fitzgerald, commissioner of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities; Katie Childers, deputy chief of staff for policy in the Governor’s Office; Frank Berry, commissioner of the Department of Community Health; Stephanie Blank, board chair of the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students; Bobby Cagle, former director of the Division of Family and Children Services; Dr. Jordan Greenbaum, medical director of the Stephanie V. Blank Center for Safe and Healthy Children; Teresa MacCartney, director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget; and Erica Fener Sitkoff, executive director, VOICES for Georgia’s Children.
Perdue said on Tuesday that he felt “challenged” by his job and that the president has set high expectations for him in the role.
“I don’t think he wants a sycophant as a secretary,” Perdue said during a speech at the National Press Club. “He wants me to give him my best counsel, my best advice, and he wants me to be right about that. He has high expectations, and frankly I’m challenged by those high expectations.”
Perdue said Trump has the “essence of a great leader” because he is willing to take different opinions into account and change his mind on policy and political matters, citing Trump’s thought process on NAFTA.
“As directed and as forward and as forceful as he is on many things, he has what I think defined as the essence of a great leader,” Perdue said. “He always leaves a little back door open for comments and he takes into consideration and is willing to change his mind on that.”
Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle unveiled his education priorities for the 2018 legislative session.
Slated for 9 a.m. Wednesday in Georgia Military College’s Old Capitol Building, the meeting will bring the council’s 15 appointed and 11 ex-officio representatives in contact with local leaders in hopes of giving Georgia’s rural residents greater access to basic needs.
“It goes back probably two or three years to when a group of [Representatives] started to realize the differences in the economic recovery between the Atlanta-metro area, and even the other urban areas in the state, and rural areas,” said Rep. Terry England, Chairman of the house Appropriations Committee and Co-Chairman of the Rural Development Council. “We’d been talking for several years about the establishment of a rural center of some sort, and of mimicking what states like Pennsylvania and others have done as it pertains to breathing life back into the rural areas of our state. A year ago, [Rep.] Jay Powell, who’s the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and myself spoke to [House Speaker David Ralston] about our concern for some of the things we were seeing and some needs we felt were not being addressed … he came back and said he wanted to create the council.”
“Broadband [internet], or the lack thereof, is certainly one of the biggest issues in rural Georgia, and it has its tentacles in just about everything else,” England said. “Broadband has [an effect] on healthcare, education, economic development, and so many other things, that it was one of the issues we knew we needed to address. We knew also that there are several issues impacting rural hospitals throughout the state; part of it is purely dollars and cents, but a big part of it is also their ability to attract and retain talent to be doctors, advanced practice nurses, and those kinds of things.”
“There are a lot of areas in the state that will likely never see a Caterpillar, or a Baxter, or a Kia Motors come to those areas,” he said, referring to companies that have opened manufacturing plants in rural Georgia in the past several years. “Part of it is because there’s just not enough population to draw a workforce from, access to and from rail, and so forth, but we need to help those communities in those areas … There are a lot of things that we do in this state very well, and there are a lot of things that we do very well on a very small scale. Given the opportunity, given some help with local leadership, and given the ability of outside resources, they can take those things that they’re doing very well and put jobs and money into their communities.”
A rural community with just 5,700 residents, Stewart was singled out in a U.S. Census Bureau report this month for being one of the poorest counties in the nation. The county has one of the highest percentages of families living in poverty at 38.4 percent.
“I worry about the kids because sometimes I know the only meal they get is what they eat in school,” Mona Hubbard, the county school system’s nutrition manager, said as she supervised Monday’s lunch preparations. “If your stomach is growling, how can you pay attention?”
Georgia House members have been studying the problems facing Stewart and other rural parts of the state for months, and now they’re preparing to do something about it. Their Rural Development Council will release its first report Wednesday, and its recommendations could be made into law as soon as next year.
Among the options up for consideration are state grants for expanding high-speed internet access in rural communities. Young doctors could be offered college loan relief if they agree to work in rural areas. Hospital record-keeping could be streamlined. And a pilot program could teach job skills to rural residents.
“There’s not a silver bullet. You’ve got to improve a lot of issues to make rural Georgia attractive for job creation,” said state Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, one of the council’s co-chairmen.
[Stewart County Manager Mac Moye] pointed to two bright spots in Stewart, Richland Distilling Co. and Omaha Brewing Co. Together, both businesses have made substantial investments in Stewart and are attracting thousands of people there each year.
Erik Vonk, a native of the Netherlands who immigrated to America for work, started growing sugar cane on his farm in South Georgia as a hobby in the late 1990s. His rum distillery now employs six people and occupies seven buildings in downtown Richland, all of which were once boarded up. His rum sells in 15 states and nine countries. Vonk is opening a branch in Brunswick.
Business tax relief, a trained workforce and affordable high-speed internet access would help Stewart’s economy grow, Vonk and Lee said.
“We need more businesses like Omaha Brewing and Richland Rum in the county,” Vonk said. “Business begets business, gradually allowing us to employ more people, draw more businesses, generate more sales taxes and establish a tiny little backbone for commerce.”
“I understand the issues that affect rural areas, and I also see the opportunity,” said Kemp. “Transportation and infrastructure improvements are perfect examples. You have people in the governor’s race who are talking about bridging over the Connector in downtown Atlanta, or even tunneling under it, but nobody is talking about how much it’s going to cost or who is going to pay for it.”
“The people of Murray County and the rest of rural Georgia don’t want to send their tax dollars intended for transportation to relieve Atlanta’s traffic congestion – they’d rather see projects like widening Highway 411 in critical spots around the new inland port, and fixing crumbling pavement, and putting in needed stoplights,” said Kemp.
“I know how important little things like that are to our communities, and that’s what I’ll be fighting for in the governor’s office,” he added.
“I want the people of Murray County to be my special interest group,” he added.
“In Atlanta and Savannah, it’s booming. But in the rural parts of the state, there still are not the same opportunities that some areas have.”
“It’s sad, when kids in rural areas have to move away from the areas where they grew up. Wanting to leave is OK, but when they have to leave to find opportunity, that’s sad.”
The system’s Board of Regents voted Tuesday to consolidate Georgia Southern University and Armstrong State University and merge Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College with Bainbridge State College. Both consolidations will take effect Jan. 1.
The two merged institutions will go forward under the names of Georgia Southern University and Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. Each will begin operating with expanded missions and degree offerings.
“The University System of Georgia is committed to serving the southeast and south Georgia regions of our state, and we view these consolidations as long-term investments,” system Chancellor Steve Wrigley said. “The new Georgia Southern University and the new Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College are well positioned to increase college attainment levels in these areas of the state.”
Clay George, who heads up the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ efforts with right whales, said he has read the report the conclusions come from — by Richard Pace of the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center, and his colleagues — and agrees the population has decreased over the last several years and appears to continue down that road.
“We’ve seen below-average calving numbers, basically, since that period, so I’m not surprised by the results at all,” George said. “The concerns about extinction are based on some analysis that one of the authors of that paper has done that I’ve seen in a webinar — it hasn’t been published in a paper yet. From what I’ve seen, his results are very concerning, because they indicate females are not living very long.”
As it stands, around 450 right whales are known to exist, and of those, there are about 100 breeding females. But considering the cyclical nature of reproduction and the amount of calves born, the number of deaths is outpacing the number of births. Researchers note 17 right whale deaths this year.
“That’s a real problem, because right whales only have a calf every four to five years,” George said. “They don’t typically start calving until they’re around 10 years of age, so if they’re dying that young, it’s pretty simple arithmetic. That means they can only produce a relatively small number of calves in their lifetime, and about half of those are going to be male, and only half will be female. More adult females are needed for the population to recover, so that’s very concerning.”
The school board voted 6-1 to approve the TAD’s creation. School board member Hank Yeargan voted against it.
“We’ve got to do something to the city of Brunswick,” said Millard Allen, school board member, “.. And I think we need to move forward with it. I know the long-term scares a lot of people, but that’s kind of the way it works.”
The city is also seeking approval from the Glynn County Commission. Jim Drumm, city manager, said at the meeting that the county commissioners have not officially voted to approve the TAD, but they said by consensus during a work session that they will support the plan.
Once the TAD goes into effect, property taxes in the district will be frozen at the current baseline level. Any additional revenue generated by rising property values goes toward paying for improvement projects in the district. The city has proposed nine projects to redevelop areas in the district, and those projects would be financed through long-term loans, called bonds.
The goal of the TAD is to attract developers to the area by improving infrastructure. Property taxes should then increase.
The tax base can remain frozen between 10 to 25 years. The difference between the baseline tax and the increased tax goes into a special account, used to pay off the bonds.
Hall County commissioners were unanimous Tuesday evening: the practice of homeowners renting-out their residences on a short term basis needed better control; so until the topic of private home rental could be better analyzed and applicable ordinances put into law, a moratorium on the issuance of vacation rental business licenses was approved until March 31, 2018.
“The Hall County Transient Occupancy Ordinance that governs vacation home rentals under thirty days was approved in 2010,” Gibbs explained. “Since that time there has been an increase in avenues for marketing listings of vacation home rentals and demand has increased nationally.”
Gibbs was referring to popular online rental sites such as “VRBO.com” and “AirBNB.com”, among others, where property owners wishing to rent their homes, or rooms in their homes, are paired with individuals looking for short term accommodations in a private setting.
“In light of this I’d like to direct staff to review the current ordinance and prepare a recommendation to the board regarding updates and revisions. Staff should have this recommendation completed by February 12, 2018, with the anticipation of a full review of the ordinance and future modifications,” Gibbs said.
“The law has always been that you have to have a business license; that way we can keep track of who is renting.” [Gibbs said]. And collect the appropriate Hotel/Motel Tax, “…because you’re competing with my hotels and motels that are paying the tax. It’s an unfair advantage (for the private homeowner who does not collect tax).”
A recent decision by the Savannah City Council to restore 18 firefighting positions that staff had proposed cutting next year means a proposed fee for fire services will amount to $256 for single-family households.
That is up from $240, the flat rate for homeowners the council decided on during a recent 2018 budget retreat to cover 70 percent of fire department costs. The fee amount for non-residential properties is based on a building’s size, as well as a risk factor determined by the fire department.
City staffers informed the mayor and aldermen during a budget workshop on Tuesday that the increase was to cover the cost restoration of the positions.
The increased amount came as a surprise to some aldermen who said they have been having to explain the fee and its impact to concerned property owners since they decided to move forward with the proposal at the budget retreat.
Announced Monday, the Leapfrog Top Hospital award is widely acknowledged as one of the most competitive honors American hospitals can receive, according to a press release from Colquitt Regional. The Top Hospital designation is awarded by the Leapfrog Group, an independent hospital watchdog organization.
“Every department at Colquitt Regional played a valuable role in helping us earn this recognition. This is the second time in four years that we have been named a Top Hospital, and it’s because of our employees, doctors, and hospital trustees,” said Colquitt Regional CEO Jim Matney. “We have changed the culture at Colquitt Regional, and our patients expect that they will receive safe and exceptional care at our hospital. Our employees — from those at the bedside to the support departments for those at the bedside — have all adopted this culture. We are delivering safe and effective care with compassion. I just can’t emphasize enough how proud I am of our team.”
As Congress sprints to the finish line to get home in time to celebrate Christmas and New Year’s, the best holiday gift my former colleagues can give American children would be to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
CHIP provides comprehensive health-care coverage to approximately 9 million children in families that earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but who cannot access or afford commercial health insurance. This wildly popular program was created in 1997 when Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) reached across the aisle and worked together; it continues to enjoy strong, bipartisan support in Washington as well as state houses across the country.
Like many fiscal conservatives, I am of a mind to regard no program as sacred, not even this one. At a time when this country has amassed debt equal to our national GDP — something we haven’t done since the end of World War II — it is reasonable to ask if we can afford to continue to pay for this level of care. Compassion for our children should include concern about the impact our national debt will have on our children and grandchildren.
However, some things are so important and provide such value that I support pulling out the credit card and spending the money. If I were still serving in Congress today, I would be urging my fellow conservatives to do the fiscally prudent thing and vote in favor of extending the CHIP program.
[Jamarco] Gibson is among more than two dozen people who were treated after overdosing on counterfeit Percocet pills over several days last June in Middle Georgia — a deadly crisis that drew national headlines. The rash of overdoses came amid a nationwide opioid overdose epidemic, which President Donald Trump has declared a public health emergency.
Although it’s unclear how many people overdosed on phony Percocet pills in Georgia, at least five died during that period. After investigating the Georgia cases, public health authorities linked 27 of the overdoses and one death to the pills. They contained a mixture of highly potent synthetic drugs that police suspect came from overseas, possibly China: cyclopropyl fentanyl and the synthetic opioid U-47700.
Dr. J. Patrick O’Neal, Georgia’s commissioner of public health, and his colleagues are now developing statewide plans for how to respond to the opioid epidemic, fearing another overdose outbreak inevitable.
Someone at the hospital told Gibson the pill he had taken contained carfentanil. Gibson said he spent about a week recovering at the hospital, racking up more than $100,000 in medical bills. He has lost as many as 20 pounds. It’s now hard for him to concentrate. He struggles with a mixture of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. He said his ordeal cost him his job.
The County Commission received updates Tuesday on an “other local option sales tax,” or OLOST, as well as a regional transportation sales tax, measures that could be added to ballots as county officials contemplate additional sources of revenue.
If the tax referendums pass, then the sales tax in Macon-Bibb would go from 7 cents to 9 cents on the dollar.
Macon-Bibb leaders have cited two benefits of the OLOST: It’s a tax that doesn’t just affect property owners, such as the millage rate. A large share of the sales tax revenue comes from people who live outside of Macon-Bibb, they have said.
The OLOST referendum would also tie into a freeze on property values and a millage rate rollback.
“This doesn’t freeze taxes, but what it freezes is the value of your home,” Mayor Robert Reichert said.
The County Commission’s Committee of the Whole voted Tuesday in favor of a resolution to begin working with the local legislative delegation on crafting potential legislation. The resolution would need final approval at next week’s regular commission meeting.
Commissioners Elaine Lucas and Bert Bivins voted against the sales tax resolution.
In the Nov. 7 elections, a wave of women who had never run for office before won races across the country, in many cases ousting male incumbents.
These new candidates had the most impact in Virginia, where they were largely responsible for Democrats nearly wiping out a 32-seat advantage for Republicans in the state legislature.
Here in Georgia, we have seen women from both parties win political offices that previously belonged to men.
Earlier this year, Republican Karen Handel won the 6th Congressional District seat that once belonged to Tom Price. Kay Kirkpatrick won a state Senate seat that Judson Hill vacated. In last week’s runoff elections, Democratic women swept four legislative seats that were up for grabs in the Metro Atlanta area, with women candidates beating male candidates in three of those races.
The wave of women winners is a trend that has swept the nation since the election of Donald Trump as president. Trump’s presence in the Oval Office seems to have energized more women to run for office than they have in past years.
I see the emergence of women in politics, for whatever reason, as a positive development. For more than two centuries, American politics has largely been the domain of middle-aged white males. It’s time to get a wider variety of viewpoints.
I agree with most of what Crawford writes in that piece, but would add the caveat that of the races he points two, only one could plausibly be considered to be outside Metro Atlanta, and that was in Athens, which is a separate world unto itself. It remains to be seen whether this trend will continue in 2018, and if it will also include more women running and winning in non-metro areas.
Former State Rep. John Yates (R-Griffin), the last World War 2 veteran to serve in the Georgia legislature, died at the age of 96.
Yates became one of a small number of Republicans in the Georgia House at the time he was first elected in 1988. After losing re-election, he ran again in 1992 and remained in office until 2016 representing a district based in Griffin.
Yates flew more than 200 missions near or over enemy lines for the U.S. Army, and he was awarded six air medals and four battle stars, according to his House biography. He served during the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive on the Western Front in 1944 and 1945.
His death was confirmed Monday by the office of House Speaker David Ralston.
“John Yates was a public servant and a patriot — a hero in the truest sense of the word,” Ralston said. “He understood better than most the meaning of sacrifice.”
Qualifying for a pair of January special elections for the Georgia legislature closed on Friday:
Brian Strickland – R
Ed Toney – R
Nelva Lee – R
Phyllis Hatcher – D
El-Madhi Holly – D
Geoffrey Cauble – R
Larry K. Morey – R
Tarji Leonard Dunn – D
Auburn University alumnus Harold Melton, presiding justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, will be the speaker at the university’s fall graduation ceremonies. Approximately 1,683 degrees will be conferred during the two ceremonies set for Saturday, Dec. 16, in Auburn Arena.
Melton was appointed to the Supreme Court of Georgia by Gov. Sonny Perdue on July 1, 2005, and was sworn in as presiding justice Jan. 6, 2017. Prior to joining the court, Melton served as executive counsel to Perdue. Before that, he spent 11 years in the Georgia Department of Law under two attorneys general where he dealt with issues ranging from the creation of the Georgia Lottery Corporation to the administration of Georgia’s tobacco settlement.
Melton, who was elected Auburn’s first African American SGA president in 1987, earned his Bachelor of Science degree in international business from Auburn in 1988. He earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Georgia in 1991. He serves on the Board of Atlanta Youth Academies and is on the local and national board for Young Life youth ministry. A native of Washington, D.C., Melton currently resides in Atlanta with his wife, Kimberly, and their three children.
He met the residents, many of whom became emotional greeting the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer, and toured the facility he helped to establish.
Tyler told CNN it’s hard for him to grasp what many of them have been through.
“You can see in their faces and hear in their voices how broken they are,” he said.
“While I was in (rehab), I found out most of women in there were battered and beaten and abused verbally and sexually in huge numbers,” he said. “It was like seven out of 10, eight out of 10.”
He said he has high hopes for the residents, who, along with their families, will have resources, including therapy, to help better their lives.
“I can only speak from my own 12-stepness, which is to say when you have an ‘ism’ which you wish was a ‘wasim,’ you need therapy,”] he said. “I’m hoping that they get some tools, some advice, some ways to work stuff out, some words of wisdom that they can then live by.”
“We’ve got to let them know they don’t have to tolerate that. Tell someone,” Williams said last week.
“There’s a lot of children hurt out there,” Williams said. “We’ve got to protect our children, and we’ve got to start somewhere.”
“This is just clean, simple, plain – put up signs telling children, ‘It’s OK to tell if someone hurts you. You can say no. Go to a safe place. Tell a trusted adult,’” he said.
DFCS’s toll-free number – 1-855-GA CHILD – is monitored around the clock and children can call anonymously. Last year, there were about 118,000 reports received. About 11 percent of those were substantiated cases.
County Chairman Mike Boyce and Commissioner Bob Weatherford spent Friday and Monday making a sales pitch to the Cobb Legislative Delegation for a new tax to pay for public safety costs.
The proposal would raise the county’s sales tax from 6 to 7 cents if passed in a November 2018 referendum. A chunk of the money from the additional 1 percent sales tax would be placed in a restricted fund to pay for public safety, freeing up the county’s general fund to pay for other things, such as the county’s anticipated $30 million budget shortfall.
“This would allow us not to have to raise the millage rate,” Weatherford said.
Weatherford told lawmakers that a 1 percent sales tax collects about $130 million a year in Cobb. After the county’s six cities were given their cut, the county would be left with $96.2 million.
Included in the proposal would be a millage rollback equal to whatever a family of four would spend on a 1 percent sales tax for a year, Weatherford said.
The referendum would require a bill through the Legislature in the coming session before the Cobb Board of Commissioners could call for the referendum.
Outgoing board members are Richard Dixon, Cheryl Huffman, Bruce Jones and Dale Swann. All seven seats on the board were up for grabs in November’s election.
Huffman, who has been on the board for 20 years, and Jones, who has served two four-year terms, did not seek re-election in November’s election. Dixon and Swann did not secure enough votes on Nov. 7 to be among the top seven vote-getters.
Incumbents Elaina Beeman, Will Byington and Faith Collins were the only current board members who were elected for the next term. They will be joined by newcomers Dr. Melissa Davis, Jill Fisher, Alvin Jackson and John Uldrick.
Macon’s zoning commission agreed Monday to not allow cars to be parked on the lawn in the front of residences in some historic districts.
In a 4-0 decision, the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission voted to amend the Comprehensive Land Development Resolution “regarding parking of vehicles on lawns visible from public right-of-way.” Commission Chairman Kamal Azar was absent.
The amendment would only apply to single-family residential property specifically in “designated design review designation districts,” said Executive Director Jim Thomas. These include the Intown, Vineville, Cherokee Heights, Beall’s Hill and downtown districts.
The new regulation is effective immediately, Thomas said after the meeting.
A decision on whether to complete two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle has been moved up from February to next week, the chairman of the Public Service Commission said Monday.
Commissioner Stan Wise said it will decide Dec. 21 after he received a request from Georgia Power Company to move the decision to this year in case the commission rules the projects should not proceed so that the company could take advantage of $150 million in benefits it might lose next year due to changes in tax law.
Commission staff also want Georgia Power to bear more of the risk for the project and oppose the company’s request to find “reasonable” its new schedule and costs of $12.2 billion to complete the reactors by 2021 and 2022, calling that “uneconomic” to ratepayers by $1.6 billion.
The telephone poll of 511 likely Republican primary voters by the Tarrance Group found 71 percent were in favor of Georgia allowing cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes only. About 77 percent of those surveyed approved giving patients permission to use the drug for treatment of diseases, which is already allowed in Georgia.
Peake, R-Macon, paid for the poll as he is seeking legislation, House Bill 645 and House Resolution 36, that would permit medical marijuana possession or sale.
He said Georgia should have a system to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana. Twenty-nine other states already allow medical marijuana cultivation.
“I did the poll because I wanted to be confident of what I already saw: Hard-core Republican voters do significantly support this issue,” Peake said. “It’s a clear indication the momentum on this is clearly shifting on this topic as more and more people see the benefit of medical cannabis oil.”
Among Georgia Republican voters surveyed on in-state cultivation of medical marijuana, 46 percent were strongly in favor and 16 percent were strongly opposed, according to results released by Peake. The poll was conducted from Nov. 27 to Nov. 29.
Income taxes are the state’s No. 1 source of revenue, and because of the uncertainty, Gov. Nathan Deal is trying to put final touches on the budget he will propose to lawmakers in January not sure of exactly how much money the state will have to spend.
Weeks before the start of Georgia’s legislative session, it’s unclear whether the federal tax plan could mean more money for the state because Georgians will lose key deductions on their state income taxes. Officials don’t know the impact of any last-minute add-ons or subtractions to the bill, which are common in horsetrading at both the state and U.S. Capitol.
Because of all that, the governor’s office, budget and tax staffers and top lawmakers are keeping a close watch on what Congress does in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 8 start of the the 2018 General Assembly session, when lawmakers will consider a $26 billion state spending plan for the upcoming year.
“You can stay awake worrying about what will happen,” said state Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. “As quick as things change, what you were worrying about is not the thing you have to worry about now.”
When federal funding is included, the state of Georgia spends about $45 billion a year. A little over 30 percent of that goes to the Department of Community Health, which runs Medicaid and provides health care to the poor, disabled and nursing home services to the elderly. About two-thirds of Medicaid is paid for by the federal government, so any cutback could have a dramatic impact.
In addition, Congress has yet to reauthorize the money that pays for the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, called PeachCare in Georgia, which has been around for about 20 years and is also run by the Department of Community Health.
About 38,000 people and businesses participate in a program known as GATE – for Georgia Agricultural Tax Exemption – that allows eligible producers to buy work-related items without paying sales tax.
That perk likely costs state and local coffers $300 million in lost revenue, according to state auditors. But an audit, which was released in October, found it’s unclear what economic impact the program is offering in return – and if the right people are getting the tax break.
The state Department of Revenue has uncovered misuse through dozens of GATE audits. The agency can reclaim the unpaid taxes, plus penalties and interest, when it catches such abuse.
About two-thirds of the 42 audits the department has performed found improper use of the tax break, according to the report. Of those, 14 audits flagged cardholders who made non-qualifying purchases. Another 15 audits found cardholders who weren’t eligible to have the card.
But state law bars the agency for sharing its findings with the state Department of Agriculture, which has the authority to revoke card privileges.
The scrutiny frustrated some. Rep. Sam Watson, R-Moultrie, who chairs the rural caucus, said the audit unfairly singles out the state’s agricultural industry.
“It’s economic development. It’s no different than the film industry getting what they’re getting, Delta getting what they’re getting, manufacturing getting what they’re getting,” Watson said last week, referring to other industry tax exemptions. “What’s the difference?
The state of Georgia remains in the throes of a debate that will have long-term impacts on the state’s electric power sector, its economy and, very likely, the long-term prospects for nuclear power in America. That debate being whether or not to continue with the construction of Vogtle Units 3 and 4.
Reservations about moving forward with the Vogtle project rest predominantly on financial arguments related to cost overruns. The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) Public Interest Advocacy Staff conveyed this in their report recently submitted to the Georgia Public Service Commission. While the financials of Vogtle shouldn’t be lightly regarded, a cost analysis alone fails to convey the full benefits of nuclear power.
There are other benefits — non-monetized benefits.
In recent testimony to the commission, I testified about three non-monetized benefits of nuclear power that support the decision to move forward with Vogtle. These being: resource diversity, policy resilience and national security.
While the commission’s public interest advocacy staff report focuses on current financials, what seems to be absent is an accounting of these “other benefits”. However, the non-monetized benefits of nuclear are arguably its most important benefits.
Nuclear power occupies a high ground of political bipartisanship and the middle ground of climate pragmatism. Approval of Vogtle Units 3 and 4 would provide Georgia with a valuable hedge against future energy policy shifts, in addition to its reliable, zero-carbon emission benefits.
With respect to nuclear power and U.S. national security , the U.S. electric power sector is a vital and critical infrastructure; therefore national security is linked to the reliability and integrity of this sector. The absence of a vibrant and robust civilian nuclear power sector would risk reducing the United States’ position of dominance and influence over the global nuclear energy cycle, which is the foundation to nuclear safety and nonproliferation.
Diminished activity in civilian nuclear power constitutes a security threat if U.S. influence and authority in the global nuclear fuel and manufacturing supply chain is reduced and supplanted by another country such as China or Russia. America cannot afford to sacrifice its global leadership role in nuclear energy.
While financial analyses are certainly necessary, financials alone cannot account for the non-monetized benefits of nuclear power. However, PSC commissioners can. That’s why the Vogtle decision is a policy decision, not just a monetizable market decision. Which is why the commission should continue exercising wisdom, prudence and sound judgment by holding steady on what it knows is needed, rather than opting for what is easy.
Boyce had proposed that future grants given to nonprofits meet at least one of four priorities — homelessness, economic stability and poverty, ex-offender re-entry/workforce development, and health and wellness. Only Commissioner Bob Weatherford supported the chairman’s measure, with commissioners JoAnn Birrell, Lisa Cupid and Bob Ott voting against.
The original priority list, according to Birrell, excluded programs such as Marietta YELLS, which targets the vulnerable youth population in the Franklin Gateway area, and the Marietta Police Athletic League, which uses sports as a basis for positive interactions between children and law enforcement, though both organizations were awarded county grants as part of the funding approved by the commission.
Boyce will now ask the commissioners to consider a modified priority list that replaces economic stability and poverty with family stability/poverty, with youth programs falling under that category.
James said she grew up in Smyrna and Marietta, attended Morris Brown College and later served in the U.S. Army as a computer programmer and later in legal support working for the JAG Corps. James and her husband, Alaric, have raised 12 children between them. James is also a small business owner and runs the Susan Jolley Awareness Program, a foundation to bring awareness to the prevention of cervical cancer and HPV.
It will take place Dec. 14 at 10 a.m. at the Dorothy C. Benson Senior Multipurpose Facility, 6500 Vernon Woods Drive in Sandy Springs.
Seniors with chronic pain are susceptible to opioid addiction with painkillers. However, most seniors are impacted because their children may become addicted and/or overdose and die from opioids.
The presentation is part of a pilot initiative to address the opioid crisis. The information sessions will be offered continuously throughout the coming year to educate citizens about the serious and potentially deadly consequences of opioid addiction.
As U.S. Attorney, Peeler is the top-ranking federal law enforcement official for the district, which includes Albany, Athens, Columbus, Macon and Valdosta. He oversees a staff of 74 employees, including 28 attorneys and 46 non-attorney support personnel. Peeler’s office is responsible for prosecuting federal crimes in the district, including crimes related to terrorism, public corruption, child exploitation, firearms and narcotics.
During his time in the new role, although brief, Peeler said he has been able to see that the position allows for immediate impact in the fight against drug and gun crime, as well as the fight against the ongoing opioid epidemic.
“(We are) investigating and prosecuting those responsible for over-, and unlawful, prescription of opioids,” he said.
Peeler described the process of getting his new job as the “world’s longest job interview.” It started shortly after last year’s presidential election and involved candidacy interviews with a committee including Georgia U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, an interview with the Department of Justice, nomination by President Trump and confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
“To be nominated is an incredible honor,” he said. “The longer I am in this job, the more fortunate I feel to be in the Department of Justice.”
Georgia Association of Educators President Sid Chapman made his annual swing through Georgia last week, lamenting “toxic testing,” inadequate education funding from the state, and teacher retention and salaries.
“We are not in favor of the changes requested by Gov. Deal that remove certain aspects of Georgia’s current ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) plan,” Chapman said. “GAE has been fighting what we call ‘toxic testing’ for many years. What Gov. Deal is asking could take us back to the days of overuse and overemphasis of high-stakes standardized testing that had become ‘toxic’ to our students. The open input period from which Georgia citizens, including thousands of teachers, commented and participated in feedback sessions and online surveys clearly indicated they wanted to move on from that requirement.”
A Democrat who has announced a bid to unseat current Republican State School Superintendent Republican Richard Woods, Chapman zeroed in during comments on the ever-contentious issue of public school funding.
“With too many of our public schools still suffering the effects of the imposed austerity cuts from the past 14 years, GAE will again be calling for the full funding of our public schools in next year’s legislative session,” Chapman said. “I hear often from our members on the lack of resources available. This challenge needs to be addressed from both the legislative and economic development fronts. The affected communities also need assistance in helping to build their commercial base so monies are also available from their end.”
Chapman added that ensuring teachers receive their full raises aids in this effort because they cannot spend locally with money they do not have.
“Many of our rural school districts are especially impacted by funding, which is why the legislature must update the state funding formula,” said Chapman. “We simply must address the impact of high poverty in our schools wherever that may be. We know this has a direct impact on schools’ learning environments and, consequently, those children’s ability to concentrate and grasp their lessons. However, we must begin associating the funding with the specific and different needs between rural and urban schools.”
Senate Bill 486 provides a homestead tax exemption to residents who are at least 65 years old and whose net income does not exceed $40,000. Glynn County voters approved the bill in 2008, and since it took effect in 2009, the school system has lost more than $37.2 million in revenue through the exemption.
School board members are asking for the bill’s language to be changed, because they argue that the exemption includes residents who do not need the tax break.
“In the original intent of the whole bill, it was a great idea,” said Hank Yeargan, school board member. “It’s to help retired, fixed income folks not have to pay property taxes, basically. But one of the consequences of it is that it has put a big strain on the (school system) budget … since it’s been in effect.”
Andrea Preston, assistant superintendent for finances for Glynn County Schools, said the ballot question posed to voters in 2008 was misleading and vague. The bill included more residents than many thought it did, because it defines “income” as “Georgia taxable net income,” or the income one receives after all adjustments, deductions, exclusions and exemptions have been applied.
The school board signed a resolution in October that requested local legislators to introduce a bill with a new ballot question, defining how senior citizens can qualify for this exemption.
Mike Hulsey, school board chairman, said the school system annually starts the year with a deficit of several million dollars. Senate Bill 486 takes away funds the school system needs, he said.
“It’s cost us a ton of money. It hurt most when were in a recession,” Hulsey said. “Although things have turned around some, it’s still not back to where we need it to be.”
The event is somber – the name of every firefighter who has fallen in the line of duty from Chatham, Bryan, Effingham and Liberty counties is called. Big Duke, the giant bell in front of SFD, is rung for each, and a rose is placed at the foot of the firefighter’s memorial.
Dale Simmons, the chaplain for the Association of Fire Chiefs in Chatham County prayed for the families of the fallen heroes at the event on Sunday.
“It just gives a chance to remember those guys and gals that we work with every day. It reminds us that what we do is dangerous,” Simmons said. “Sometimes things happen, and it just helps us tell the families that we’ve not forgotten them and how important they are to us.”
The [Georgia] platform established Georgia’s conditional acceptance of the Compromise of 1850. Much of the document followed a draft written by Charles Jones Jenkins and represented a collaboration between Georgia Whigs and moderate Democrats dedicated to preserving the Union. In effect, the proclamation accepted the measures of the compromise so long as the North complied with the Fugitive Slave Act and would no longer attempt to ban the expansion of slavery into new territories and states. Northern contempt for these conditions, the platform warned, would make secession inevitable.
This qualified endorsement of the Compromise of 1850 essentially undermined the movement for immediate secession throughout the South. Newspapers across the nation credited Georgia with saving the Union.
For nearly a decade before Pearl Harbor, Vinson had schemed and politicked in brilliant fashion to ensure that America was building a two-ocean navy larger than all the major navies of the world combined.
Vinson had assumed in the mid-1930s that fascist Japan and Germany posed existential threats to the United States. For America to survive, he saw that America would need mastery of the seas to transport its armies across the Pacific and Atlantic.
From 1934 to 1940, Vinson pushed through Congress four major naval appropriations bills. The result was that the U.S. Pacific Fleet which Japan thought it had almost destroyed in December 1941 was already slated to be replaced by a far larger and updated armada.
A little more than seven months after Pearl Harbor, the USS Essex — the finest carrier in the world — was launched. Essex was the first of 24 such state-of-the-art fleet carriers of its class to be built during the war.
Vinson’s various prewar naval construction bills also ensured the launching of hundreds of modern battleships, cruisers, destroyers and submarines. As bombs fell at Pearl Harbor, ships of the new American fleet were soon to be deployed, under construction or already authorized.
Vinson’s foresight would save thousands of American lives in the Atlantic and Pacific. American naval power quickly allowed the U.S. to fight a two-front war against Japan, Germany and Italy.
Vinson, a rural Georgian, was an unlikely advocate of global naval supremacy.
Georgia’s net tax collections for November totaled $1.84 billion, for an increase of nearly $124.7 million, or 7.3 percent, compared to last year when net tax collections totaled $1.72 billion. Year-to-date, net tax collections totaled almost $9.04 billion, for an increase of $238.6 million, or 2.7 percent, over November 2016, when net tax revenues totaled roughly $8.8 billion, five months into the fiscal year.
Supporters of the Gainesville Republican said he has the 19 votes needed to succeed David Shafer of Duluth. A Senate Republican caucus vote next week pits Miller against Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert of Athens.
Shafer, a Republican from Duluth, is running for lieutenant governor in 2018.
“Butch has really put in the work in this caucus election. I’ve looked Butch in eye and told him that he has my vote,” [Senate Rules Committee Chair Jeff] Mullis said. “A lot of other senators have done the same, and I think that’s enough to give him the majority he needs.”
State Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, said she, too, is confident Miller has the 19 votes he needs. “I think a majority of the caucus is with him because he’s effective, competent and efficient – everything we want in a leader and what voters wish Washington could be,” she said.
Jere Wood on Wednesday announced that he will run for the State House District 48 seat held by Rep. Betty Price, a legislator he’s criticized for having a hand in trying to remove him from office.
Wood made the announcement at a gathering for hundreds of friends held at his home, and used the opportunity to thank his supporters who’ve stood by his side during his 20-year tenure in office.
“They have been my most productive years and the great joy of my life,” he said in prepared comments shared with Patch, adding his goal when he was elected mayor in 1997 at the age of 49 was to make the city the “best place to live” in the Peach State.
A bid to run for the House District 48 seat, Wood said, will allow him to continue efforts to make Roswell a better place to live. He also said he feels more qualified to help the city today than when he was first elected.
“House District 48 and the city of Roswell need a new face at the capital,” he added. “They need a representative who knows Roswell, who listens to Roswell and who can work well with other to get things done for Roswell. I am the best person for that job.”
As a political nerd, I collect weird election results. In Austell City Council Ward 1, a runoff was held this week after the only two candidates in November tied at 76 votes each. In the runoff, Marlin Lamar built on his November results and garnered 88 votes, while Ikaika Anderson lost significant support, earning 49 votes, roughly two-thirds of her November total.
So, Marlin Lamar won the runoff with the exact same number of votes he had in November, while his opponent, Ikaika Anderson shed two votes.
The decision affects only artificial fluoride in the city water, which also adds things like mercury, arsenic and lead to the mix, according to McMahan. Since fluoridation is state-mandated in Georgia, 10% of registered city voters who voted in last election were needed to sign a petition to put “Stop Fluoridation” on the ballot.
Ocilla Mayor Seale states that enacting the decision should not be a difficult task.
“We just have to file the proper paperwork with the state and they will either amend our current certificate or issue a new one, eliminating the added artificial fluoride from our water,” he explained.
On whether allegations of sexual harassment at the Capitol will surface this year
I’m not making predictions about that. I certainly hope not. You know, it’s not a perfect environment. I don’t know any environment that is perfect, but you know we have, in our General Assembly employee handbook, spelled out a zero-tolerance for sexual harassment policy.
On the consequences for sexual harassment in the General Assembly
The consequences would be internal sanctions by supervisors or, in the case of members, having their conduct reviewed by the appropriate committees. And in fact, about a week and a half ago, I appointed a joint subcommittee of the Legislative Services Committee to see if there’s improvements we can make. I think that it’s incumbent upon us to always look for ways that we can do things even better.
On whether lawmakers should reconsider the state law that bars moving or concealing Confederate monuments
If we are a state, then we share the same history. The history of Georgia is the same whether you live in Blue Ridge or whether you live in Bainbridge or whether you live in Decatur. And so to allow that history to be controlled depending on the jurisdiction you’re in strikes me as being divisive in and of itself. So, I think we have to be very careful as we go forward. You know there’s much about our history as a state that is dark. We share that with other states. But we also are growing, and we have made a lot of progress. And so I would hate to see us become so fixated on looking back that we lose our focus on looking forward as a state.
On whether state lawmakers will consider ‘religious liberty’ legislation
My view now is let’s move forward. This is a big, diverse state, and I frankly don’t plan to spend a lot of time on that issue as we go into this next session.
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp told the Roswell Rotary Club Nov. 30 that if he is elected governor, he would sign a “religious freedom and restoration bill” similar to the ones Gov. Nathan Deal has twice vetoed if came before him.
Kemp said he would support a bill that guaranteed Georgians religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution.
“I don’t know what other provisions that may have been in [the bills Deal vetoed]. But I would support a bill that is in line with federal law,” Kemp said. “It would be simply codifying what is already in the Constitution.”
After hearing opposition from a number of speakers during a public hearing, the council also held the first reading of a charter amendment to implement a fee charged to all properties for fire service. The rate would amount to a fee of $240 for single-family homes, rather than $370 as initially proposed. In addition, the property tax rate would be reduced by 1 mill so that the financial impact on the average household would amount to about $194, according to city officials. A hardship account will also provide $400,000 to assist low-income property owners who have difficulty affording the fire fee, as part of the proposal.
The budget and fire fee are expected to be adopted at the next meeting on Dec. 21.
Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach lost support during a budget workshop Thursday morning for including $2.2 million in next year’s budget for the center he touted as an anti-poverty initiative.
Alderman Brian Foster said he could not fund a program he knew little about, joining aldermen Van Johnson, Estella Shabazz and Tony Thomas in raising concerns about the proposed center.
“I cannot in good conscious vote to spend $2.2 million on a program that doesn’t exist,” Foster said.
Gwinnett County held a meeting with their legislative delegation and everyone wanted to talk about transit.
The transit issue has grown up to become a key topic in state government, with committees being created to study the topic. Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston appointed Gwinnett County Commission Chairwoman Charlotte Nash to serve on the House’s committee that looked into the issue earlier this year.
Transportation funding in general is one of the major issues county leaders want the Gwinnett legislative delegation to take on during the 2018 state legislative session, with a request to extend the length on T-SPLOSTs. Those special taxes are currently capped at five years in length.
“I’m asking for 30 years,” Nash told the legislators. “I think ACCG is asking for 20 years. Two reasons for that is if you’re going to get federal dollars, then you’ve got to have 20 years of shared revenues, and if you’re going to do transit projects, you’ve got to be able to do bonds and the time frame for bonding is typically 25 to 30 years for these types of projects so you need to be sure of a revenue stream for that.”
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
U.S. Sen. Walter F. George stated: “Japan’s deed is an act of desperation by a war-mad people. The attack on Hawaii is a deliberate act of the Japanese government. I am utterly amazed. It is unthinkable… . An open declaration of war will give us greater freedom of action.” Noting the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, George optimistically predicted that “it may take two or three years to fight this war to the end.”
U.S. Sen. Richard B. Russell responded to the attack by stating: “Japan has committed national hari-kari. I cannot conceive of any member of Congress voting against a declaration of war in view of the unpardonable, unprovoked attack on us. I am utterly astounded.”
U.S. Rep. Carl Vinson, chairman of the House Naval Affairs Committee, added: “Of course we will have to declare war. There is nothing else for Congress to do. This is a concerted action by the Axis Powers, but I am confident our Navy is ready and will render a glorious account of itself. It probably means we will be drawn into the world conflict on both oceans.”
George, a second class petty officer at the time, saved the lives of several sailors from the battleship USS Arizona. He survived the war and retired from the Navy in 1955 but passed away in 1996.
The Bronze Star Medal will be presented by Rear Adm. Matthew J. Carter, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, to George’s daughter, Joe Ann Taylor, today during a 4:30 p.m. (Hawaii-Aleutian time) ceremony at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor.
“The presentation of the medals is not only appropriate but simply the right thing to do,” Spencer said in a release sent out by the Navy. “One of my highest priorities is to honor the service and sacrifice of our sailors, Marines, civilians, and family members. It is clear that Lt. (Aloysious H.) Schmitt and Chief George are heroes whose service and sacrifice will stand as an example for current and future service members.”
In addition to George’s Bronze Star, the secretary also awarded the Silver Star Medal to Lt. j.g. Schmitt for action at Pearl Harbor while serving on the battleship USS Oklahoma.
[Alvin] Mays, an Army veteran, had been assigned to the 21st infantry, 24th Division, at Schofield Barracks when the attack occurred. He reflected Monday on the Japanese fighter planes that flew overhead, spraying those below with bullets, following the bombing of the U.S. naval base, located near Honolulu, Hawaii.
“I just had walked out of the mess hall that morning and heard all the bombing and everything sounding off at a distance,” Mays said . “Just minutes after that we began to see the planes flying over. They came in striking the 21st infantry at treetop level and lucky for us we did not have any casualties that morning.”
Mays, who served as a mechanic, was assigned to the base after enlisting in 1941. He was 18. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, Mays deployed to Australia, then to the Philippines where he fought on the front lines before being ordered back to the States.
“When I got to Hawaii, I didn’t take any basic training,” he said. “That was very unusual, but they were just motorizing their infantry at that time. I went straight into the motor pool and that’s where I stayed until MacArthur signed the treaty.”
The fact that the top two vote-getters in this year’s November primary were Democrats came as a shock to many, but Cobb Democratic Party chair Michael Owens said it is a sign of things to come.
“We’re seeing a change in tides,” Owens said. “We’re seeing the Democratic Party increasingly starting to truly rebound and starting to become influential, the wills of the people starting to be influential about Democratic ideas and principles. Those candidates that are talking about those issues, it’s clear that voters are responding and are listening to the message.”
Speaking before the results came in, Jordan said she had been helped by a primary field with more Republican candidates, splitting the vote. The primary included five Republicans and three Democrats.
“I think some folks were taken by surprise by Trump’s victory,” she said. “Maybe that was a lesson learned. If we want this democracy to work, we have to work at it, and we have to participate in it. And we have to support candidates that we like and we think can do a good job for us. People really are wanting to be more involved and participate more in elections across the board.”
“(District 6 is) a competitive district,” [Kennesaw State University political scientist Kerwin] Swint said. “I do think this fits into the trend of it being a Democrat winning streak. … I think Democrats should celebrate.”
The real test will come next year when Jordan faces election again, this time as an incumbent. Swint said she may end up serving for more than just the remainder of Hill’s term.
“I think a Democrat, that being a competitive district, stands a reasonable chance,” he said. “It will depend in part on her and her service and her record. … In the whole metro area, both parties can’t take anything for granted. It’s really going to require a lot of attention to the precinct level.”
Sarah Riggs Amico joins three Republicans in the race to succeed Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle: Senate Pro Tem David Shafer, state Sen. Rick Jeffares and former state Rep. Geoff Duncan.
Amico is executive chairman at Jack Cooper Holdings Corp., a trucking and logistics firm run by her father, Michael Riggs. Trained at Harvard’s business school, she’s previously worked at talent and literary agencies in New York and Hollywood.
Her campaign roll-out included a video focusing on her executive leadership at Jack Cooper, replete with folks music and images of tractor trailers hauling cars on highways. Her family bought the company during the Great Recession in 2008 and grew it from 120 employees to more than 3,000.
“We literally had suppliers betting on whether or not we would make it through the summer. There were a lot of executives who thought this would be a great time to cut back on healthcare benefits we pay for,” she said. “We went the other direction and said we’re going to pay for all of it.”
Her campaign platform includes vows to work across party lines with Republicans, expand access to rural healthcare and a pledge to pursue more apprenticeships and vocational educational programs.
Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Paine in March to fill the district attorney’s position and replace now Richmond County Superior Court Judge Ashley Wright.
“As district attorney, I have worked tirelessly to protect citizens, families, and businesses from violence and crime,” Paine said in a news release. “I am committed to the people of the Augusta Judicial Circuit and refuse to back down from prosecuting those who want to hurt our children, take advantage of the elderly, or create fear in our communities and neighborhoods.”
“Serving as district attorney is an honor and a privilege. I humbly ask for your vote with the promise to always fight hard and do the right thing – even when no one is looking. Together, we will ensure a safe and promising future for our families and loved ones.”
As district attorney of the Augusta Judicial Circuit, Paine serves as the top prosecutor in Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties.
According to the Georgia Secretary of State’s website, Henry, the incumbent Post 4 City Council member, defeated fellow challenger Lee Jenkins in the Dec. 5 runoff with 55 percent, or 6,551 votes. Jenkins received 45 percent, or 5,390 votes.
Residents will also greet two new faces on the Roswell City Council. These same results show Matt Judy defeating fellow challenger Karen Parrish for the Post 6 seat and [Sean Groer] edging out Mike Nyden for the special election to fill the Post 3 seat.
Judy received 60 percent, or 6,660 votes, to Parrish’s 40 percent, or 4,452 votes. Groer won with 54 percent, or 5,768 votes, to Nyden’s 46 percent, or 4,910 votes.
According to unofficial results posted by the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, Bradberry received 58 percent, or 2,151 votes, compared to Horton’s 42 percent, or 1,573 votes.
Bradberry will succeed Davenport, who chose not to run for re-election. The office of mayor and the Post 1 and Post 3 seats on the City Council were decided in the Nov. 7 general municipal election. Lenny Zaprowski was re-elected to the Post 1 seat while Stephanie Endres won another four-year term for the Post 5 seat, respectively.
Mayor Mike Bodker initially faced challenger Alex Marchetti for re-election, but the challenger opted to drop out of the race, leaving Bodker unopposed for another four-year term.
Interim school board member and candidate Judy Wiggins requested a recount of the ballots in the Tuesday run-off vote that came down to a 191-190 victory for Chris Culver. That will take place Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m. at the Board of Elections office in the County Administration offices at 144 West Ave., Cedartown.
“More than anything else, hearing from supporters and my campaign group, I felt that with it being just one vote it bears looking at one more time,” Wiggins said.
“Our tourism is also one of those areas you have benefited (from) greatly,” Deal said. “We have had tourism expand in our state. … The more we can get the message out to the world that Georgia is a great place to visit … and that there is more to Georgia than just ‘Georgia on My Mind,’ we want you to come have it on your eyesight.”
In 2015, Lowndes County brought in $282.4 million in direct tourist spending and generated $11.8 million in state tax revenue and $8.7 million in local tax revenue, Deal said.
Deal spoke about the expansion of the film industry in the state and how he wants to develop a workforce of stage, sound and light engineers so the film companies can pull from Georgia’s workforce.
“We don’t just want them bringing people in to do that,” Deal said. “We want Georgians to have those skills so that when they decide to shoot a film in our state they can find the right people right here and trained with the skill set to get those jobs.”
Deal talked about how he has helped tackle issues with formerly incarcerated residents and residents looking for jobs that require technical skills.
The final message Deal left Valdosta was that economic success must continuously be earned.
“We’re number one in the nation in meaningful criminal justice reform,” he said. “We’re number one in the nation as a place in which to do business. We’re number one in the nation and in the world in terms of film production.”
‘We are number one in a lot areas. We’ve got to keep pushing because the world is always changing and we need to be sure we stay ahead of those changes.”
The 11 schools picked by the state’s first Chief Turnaround Office, Eric Thomas, are mostly in south Georgia. All are south of Atlanta; they are in Bibb, Clay, Dooly, Dougherty and Randolph counties.
Thomas said all these districts agreed to be part of the program, which was established this year by The First Priority Act. The new state law came in reaction to voter rejection last year of a constitutional amendment that would have created a statewide “opportunity” school district with authority to seize “chronically failing” schools.
Georgia must be willing to build the infrastructure of tomorrow, and while that includes updating existing roads and bridges, it also includes transit, Cagle said.
“It doesn’t mean MARTA or transit has to be placed or forced on anyone, but we certainly have to recognize that it is a piece of the puzzle going forward,” he said.
In addition to its effects on reducing congestion, proximity to public transit has become a priority for companies when they are looking to relocate, Cagle said, such as the recent announcement from Amazon that it is looking to build its second headquarters.
“I think all of you know a little bit about this Amazon issue, and every single major headquarter deal that we are getting, all of them are requiring to be located on a transit line,” Cagle said. “They understand what that future is going to look like, and so we have to plan for the infrastructure of tomorrow, both in terms of roads and bridges, but also transit as well.”
Does that mean MARTA rail will extend into Cobb County?
“I am not going to force MARTA on Cobb County. I want to be very clear. That is a decision by which Cobb County needs to make,” Cagle said. “But I do think it is my role to set up a system by which we determine where the needs are today, but also in the future. And if it makes sense to Cobb, then they have an opportunity to do that. And the other thing is MARTA fundamentally, the governance structure within MARTA, I think people are fearful of that. They’re fearful of that in Cobb. They’re fearful of that in Gwinnett as well. So there is an opportunity for Cobb County to have their own transit system to where they would then have an intergovernmental agreement with an entity like MARTA or there could be an option by which MARTA is the governance structure’s changed tremendously.”
Georgia Power and its partners in the new reactors will receive the remaining $3.2 billion it is owed from Toshiba by Dec. 15 instead of monthly payments scheduled to go through the end of 2020. The companies had already received $455 million in payments.
Georgia Power’s share of the new payments would be $1.47 billion. The agreement to make the remainder of payments is still subject to approval by Toshiba’s board and the U.S. Department of Energy.
“We are pleased to have reached this constructive agreement with Toshiba regarding the parent guarantees for the Vogtle project and every dollar will be used to benefit our customers,” said Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers. “We remain committed to making the right decisions for our state’s energy future and continue to believe that completing both Vogtle units represents the best economic choice for customers and preserves the benefits of carbon-free, baseload generation for Georgia electric customers.”
The Public Service Commission is currently reviewing the request and receiving testimony about the project and hearings will resume next Monday with testimony from the public. A decision on whether to proceed is scheduled for Feb. 6.