Georgia editorial roundup

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

April 14

The Augusta Chronicle says Georgia is in a good place with its legislators:

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”

There’s a campaign-style bumper sticker making the rounds nationally that says, “Any Functioning Adult, 2020.”

Sure seems that way, at least in Washington, D.C.

It appears to be a much different story in Georgia, and perhaps other states. Georgia appears quite well-run – as evidenced by a just-concluded legislative session where the main challenges were making the state better and safer and preserving its quality of life.

In fact, among the audience’s questions at a recent gubernatorial forum hosted by the Columbia County Republican Women were ones about how best to structure the state’s blend of taxes and how to capitalize on “the economic growth brought on by the film industry.”

Most of the problems cited by the 80-some in attendance were, in fact, national bugaboos, including illegal immigration, helping veterans, guns and mental health, assaults on conservative speech (highlighted by the Facebook congressional hearings the week before last) and balancing religious freedom with gay rights.

At bottom, Georgia’s chief challenges are education, transportation, immigration, health care and rural economics.

Other issues include human/sex trafficking – of which there is a vortex in the Atlanta area, but which is also spilling out into small-town Georgia due to crackdowns in Atlanta; the national opioid crisis; and concerns about Second Amendment rights.

As for “functioning adults” in leadership, we’re happy to report Georgia has more than its share. The upcoming May 22 statewide primary – for which early voting starts April 30 – is proof enough of that.

Engaged voters are currently taking the measure, as are we, of the men seeking to be the state’s next governor. The leading candidates are Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, state Sen. Hunter Hill and businessman Clay Tippins.

All are top-quality individuals. Cagle and Kemp obviously inhabit top-tier positions. Hill is an Army Ranger with three tours of duty under his belt. Tippins is a former Navy SEAL with international business experience.

We encourage you to visit their websites – just Google the name plus “governor” – to learn more about them. But it’s hard to see how we can go wrong – despite following a tough act in Gov. Nathan Deal.

Moreover, the just-ended legislative session – while featuring more than the usual sausage-making politics – was highly successful and absent crisis. Legislators confronted major issues such as gun violence, post-Parkland, in what one lawmaker called “a calculated, considerate way.”

In large part because Georgia is certifiably the No. 1 state in which to do business – named so in 2017 by Site Selection magazine for the fifth year in a row – revenues have made it possible for the state to fully fund its Quality Basic Education formula for what appears to be the first time since its inception in the 1980s. Recession-era austerity cuts also have been eliminated.

The state also plunked $360 million of additional funds into the Teachers Retirement System.

Meanwhile, the 2019 budget, beginning in July, includes $1.6 million for student mental health awareness training and “response and intervention training” for schools.

A new “Chief Turnaround Officer program” also has been funded to help turn around failing schools.

As for gun violence, lawmakers also took action to strengthen the state’s data base on involuntary commitments, and to punish those who supply guns to individuals who are prohibited from purchasing them.

Contrary to Groucho Marx’s wry observation about politics, Georgia is on good footing and taking steps to improve that footing.

“I just don’t know how people argue with what we’re doing in this state,” Rep. Jodi Lott said. “I can’t say enough good things about the direction of the state.”

Challenges remain, of course.

Transportation is a continuing struggle – due, again, in large part to the success the state has had in attracting business and industry.

On that front, the General Assembly passed landmark legislation that, over five years, will consolidate Atlanta-area mass transit systems into one “Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority,” or The ATL. It will coordinate and expand mass transit across 13 Atlanta-area counties – a huge and welcome step, since 60 percent of the metro area’s commuters work and live in different counties.

The big challenge will be to get the Capital to look beyond Atlanta’s needs to the rest of ours.

And while you’d think that red-state Georgia wouldn’t have a problem with cities giving sanctuary to those who enter the country illegally, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last fall that “three Georgia cities – Atlanta, Clarkston and Decatur – have adopted measures in favor of restricting their interactions with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

Republican gubernatorial candidates are promising to crack down on such lawbreaking.

Still, the state of the state is pretty doggone good.

As state Rep. Barry Fleming noted in his invocation at Columbia County gubernatorial forum, all one has to do to remind oneself of that is to follow the news around the world.

Georgia is in a good place.

It’s up to informed and engaged voters to keep it there.


April 13

Marietta Daily Journal says Marsy’s Law keeps victims from being left in the dark:

Marsy Nicholas’ ex-boyfriend convinced her to come by his house after threatening to commit suicide. When she did, he was waiting with a shotgun. But he didn’t turn the gun on himself. Instead, he targeted Marsy, a senior at the University of California Santa Barbara, shooting her in the head.

After the funeral service, Marsy’s mother stopped off at a grocery store. Imagine the horror when she saw her daughter’s killer standing in the checkout line staring at her. No one had informed the grieving mother that he had been released on bail, according to the Los Angeles Times.

To prevent such horrendous scenarios from occurring, the Georgia General Assembly passed this session Senate Resolution 146, commonly known as Marsy’s Law for Georgia.

If approved when it comes in front of Georgia voters in a November referendum, Marsy’s Law would give victims of crime such constitutional rights as:

Notice of any scheduled court proceedings involving the alleged act or changes to the scheduling of such proceedings;

Notice of the arrest, release or escape of the accused;

The right not to be excluded from any scheduled court proceedings involving the alleged act;

The right upon request to be heard at any scheduled court proceedings involving the release, plea or sentencing of the accused; and

The right to be informed of his or her rights.

The legislation passed the Senate last year and was assigned to the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, chaired by retiring state Rep. Rich Golick, R-Smyrna. There, Golick worked on it with advocates and prosecutors to come up with agreeable language. The intent of the constitutional amendment is to take the rights and protections victims have under Georgia law and enshrine them in the constitution.

“Because, of course, the statute can always be changed,” Golick said. “A constitution technically can also be changed if it passes two thirds of the House and Senate and is ratified by the people, but any kind of change in the constitution certainly has more permanence.”

The goal, Golick says, is to ensure the rights of the victims of crime are placed in the constitution while at the same time making sure those rights don’t cause the wheels of justice and court proceedings to come to a grinding halt. The court system has to keep moving, but while it’s moving, the amendment’s purpose is to afford victims of crime the right of certain notice and the right to be heard.

While these rights are already in state law, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said they aren’t consistently applied and there’s no recourse for victims if their rights are violated. By placing the rights in the constitution, Cagle said victims will be able to go straight to the judge and demand a remedy if their rights are violated. This can be a matter of life and death, Cagle said, citing the case of Tamiko Lowry Pugh of Austell, whose former husband was arrested after beating and choking her until she passed out. He was released without her knowledge, and he showed up at a house that Pugh, a real estate agent, was showing. He beat her again, and fortunately, she escaped.

“Knowledge is power,” Golick said. “And the ability of a crime victim to know what’s happening, when it’s happening, and the ability to go ahead and be heard in conjunction with those proceedings is powerful. It is empowering for a victim. Does it guarantee a result? No. But understanding what’s happening, when it’s happening and why it’s happening is very important. If a crime victim has that ability, has that right under the state constitution to have that knowledge, very arguably a situation like that might not have occurred.”

In Cobb, District Attorney Vic Reynolds said victims of crime are notified of court dates, bond and sentencing hearings and when people get out of jail. Some district attorneys in smaller circuits, given the sheer volume of cases and limited staff, were initially concerned about being subject to a lawsuit if a notice failed to be sent out and that notice was made into a constitutional right. But Reynolds said those concerns were hammered out in Golick’s committee and he plans to vote in favor of the amendment.

In 2017, the Cobb DA’s Office Victim Witness Unit had 130,687 contacts with victims through letters, emails, phone calls and personal visits.

“We do everything humanly possible to make sure victims know. But we’re fortunate in this county: We’ve got people who can do that, and some circuits don’t. But I think the way this law is crafted right now you’ll see an overwhelming amount of support around the state, and I think you’ll see that by DAs and solicitors as well,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds believes it’s vital for those who work in the public safety field to remember one of the primary reasons for their service is for the sake of victims. Few things will affect you more than having your home robbed, your identity stolen or your body assaulted. This is why Reynolds says he’s always amazed when he sees the resilience of victims – their strength, dignity and ability to overcome what’s happened to them.

Observances commemorating victims of crime unfolded throughout the country as part of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which spanned April 8-14.

“And so I think during this week, if we remember as public safety individuals what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and who we’re doing it for, it certainly means a great deal to us to look at these victims and feel that we’ve done everything we can do to help them in their case,” he said.

After observing National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, it’s fitting that Georgians will have the opportunity to enshrine the rights of victims in the state’s constitution this fall.


April 17

The Savannah Morning News says Georgia officials owe the public answers regarding the spaceport:

As scientists and Star Trek villain Khan like to say, it is very cold in space.

The Federal Aviation Administration is proving equally frosty when it comes to the public’s concerns about a proposed spaceport on Georgia’s coast.

Spaceport Camden is planned for a former industrial property near the Cumberland Island National Seashore. The facility would cater to the growing commercial space industry and include launch and landing sites.

At issue is the potential danger to residents whose properties would be overflown by rockets blasting off from the spaceport. Inhabitants of Little Cumberland Island, located across the marsh from the site and in the projected launch path, are understandably apprehensive.

Those islanders and other members of the public were invited to meet with FAA officials last week. The agency is reviewing the project’s potential environmental impact as required prior to issuing a launch operator’s license.

Yet FAA officials on recently closed what had been advertised as a public meeting. They excluded two journalists, claiming the session was to “have an open discussion with residents … not a discussion on the record,” according to a spokeswoman.

The FAA didn’t limit attendance to residents, however. Several environmental advocates sat in, as did the Camden County government’s legal counsel.

If the FAA were a state agency, this would be a clear violation of open meetings law. Georgia’s sunshine laws limit closure except in cases that involve personnel reviews, real estate transactions or strategic planning.

The feds have more leeway. They can legally hold private sessions with specific stakeholders, as they did on April 12 – although allowing select non-residents to attend invalidates their stance.

Legal arguments aside, if the FAA wants the public to have confidence in this process, the agency should drop the cold shoulder.

Spaceport Camden is an intriguing project. The facility offers the promise of jobs and economic development in an industry, such as aerospace, that can remake a community.

Think about what Gulfstream means to Savannah. The benefits go far beyond the 10,000 well-playing jobs to investments in education and philanthropy, not to mention the fact that simply by being here the company inspires multitudes of young people to pursue engineering careers.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration did the same for Florida’s so-called Space Coast. Now, the government facility at Cape Canaveral is home to commercial space pioneers like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.

Camden wants to join that orbit. But in shooting for the stars, the stakeholders should not ignore those here on Earth.

Spaceport Camden would be the only launch site in the United States that shoots rockets over an inhabited area. The inherent danger is why other spaceports are located on barrier islands, like at Cape Canaveral, Wallops Island, Virginia, Kodiak, Alaska, and one under construction near Brownsville, Texas, or in desolate areas.

Spaceport America, the first purpose-built commercial spaceport in the world, is in the New Mexico desert adjacent to an Army missile range. The Mojave Air and Space Port covers 3,300 acres in the California high desert.

Interest in developing more launch sites underscores the commercial potential. Camden is part of a new-age space race. The FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation has licensed 10 spaceports in the last 22 years and is receiving regular inquiries.

One comes from a Georgia neighbor. The Alabama Space Authority, birthed last year by that state’s legislature, is working to identify potential spaceport locations.

Spaceport Camden’s viability deserves scrutiny. The county has invested $3.5 million in the project already, and more expensive work remains, including cleanup of environmental issues spawned by the previous site user, chemical manufacturer Union Carbide.

At least one expert doubts Spaceport Camden would ever get clearance to launch a rocket because of the flight path over Little Cumberland Island, even if it were awarded a launch operator’s license. Ray Lugo, a rocket scientist with the Florida Space Institute, put it bluntly when he said of Spaceport Camden, that he didn’t understand why people would throw money away.

Camden officials and the FAA need to ask themselves the same question. Or at least show a commitment to an open dialogue, where the public is allowed to voice such concerns and journalists have the access to report on them.


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