The Georgia General Assembly convened three weeks ago. Twice-weekly Covid 19 tests are required for Senate and House members. The Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC), and other outlets, are reporting that House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, expelled fellow Republican David Clark of Buford today for refusing to be tested at all since the session began.
My math adds up to Speaker Ralston allowing Clark to skip five required tests since the General Assembly convened.
What part of a pandemic does Clark not understand requires every possible precaution from contracting or spreading? Just as troubling is Ralston’s failure to require every House member to adhere to the required testing. Ralston’s side of the state capitol doesn’t release test results, but the AJC reports that the Senate has had nine cases among Senate members, staff, aides, and interns since convening.
Shame on Ralston for not releasing House testing results. And shame on him for putting his fellow legislators, staff, aides, interns, custodians, security personnel, and anyone else working under the Gold Dome, at risk for contracting this deadly virus because a House member wouldn’t follow testing requirements.
Because coal ash and its toxins are forever, the work to protect the health of communities, water and air, natural resources, and recreational places, is never done. The Georgia Recorder has an op/ed I wrote about the challenges we face in Georgia concerning coal ash waste clean up and storage. Spoiler alert- ratepayers shouldn’t have to pay for it.
Former Georgia Speaker of the House Tom Murphy was an opponent of requiring seatbelt use. He said it was inconvenient for farmers who may spend a lot of time getting in and out of their truck . I always thought that was a lazy man’s excuse.
An article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that 90 percent of registered voters recently surveyed support legislation requiring all occupants in a vehicle to be buckled up. For years state legislators have puttered towards stronger laws designed to protect drivers and passengers This year promises to finish the work of reducing injuries and fatalities in car crashes here, with a state Senate committee poised to recommend that all back seat passengers be required to buckle up.
Reams of data have documented the benefits of seat belts and car seats/boosters. Reporter David Wickert writes that in 2018, 803 back seat passengers ages eight years old and up died in car crashes. The Governors Highway Safety Association reports that half of those fatalities would have been prevented. Think about that. Over 400 people would have survived if they had used a seat belt. Wickert adds that in 2015 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that $10Billion could have been saved due to medical expenses, lost work hours, and additional injury-related expenses. I’ll venture a guess those costs would be higher now.
I know to the day when many of my close family members became seat belt users: June 21, 1986. That’s the day seat belts saved my life and my husband’s life.
I was driving the last few miles to an extended family vacation on Tybee Island when a careless driver crossed a grass median and three lanes of traffic, hitting us head on. Instead of greeting us at the beach house, my father-in-law searched the ER at Savannah Memorial Hospital, following a baby’s screams, to find my seven month old daughter McKinsey, unscathed, save for a small scratch from flying glass and some bruises where the car seat straps had kept her safely in her car seat during the impact. My husband David had a pretty bad cut on his knee. I don’t know if the cuts on his forehead required stitches or not.
What I do know is that doctors told my parents, when they arrived from North Carolina, that a three-point inertia seat belt had saved their daughter’s life. Air bags weren’t options in cars in 1986, it was the seat belt in the Honda Accord that saved me. Well, that, plus the fact that I used it. Call me a positive role model.
Driving a car requires a driver’s license. Owning a car requires carrying insurance. Motorcyclists have to wear a helmet in our state.
Georgia legislators are not known for being early adopters of legislation that set trends for improved health and safety outcomes. Passing a law requiring back seat passengers to buckle up, and putting teeth into that law by allowing officers to stop a vehicle if back seat riders aren’t wearing a seat belt, wouldn’t make Georgia the first state to do. It would put us among 19 other states and the District of Columbia who have decided that saving lives and reducing injuries are worth any pushback from the the 10 percent who may complain.
Today marks a new era in Georgia, one that follows a contentious race for the governor’s mansion. Will Brian Kemp and the GA Legislature deliver on promises to rural voters?
Rural hospitals are fragile, while access to care is difficult in regards to insurance coverage, number of providers, and transportation. Will legislators swallow hard and request a waiver so much needed federal dollars can make their way to rural citizens and providers?
Will rural residents, and by rural I mean the ones who live on dirt roads or outside any semblance of a crossroads or town, begin to see a solution to high speed, affordable internet access? This infrastructure impacts businesses, schools, and the attractiveness of living in rural communities.
How will Kemp and the legislature handle districting when the census is completed? This issue didn’t get a lot of coverage during the campaigns, but it will impact rural Georgians in big ways as populations continue to shift to more urban areas. What about safe and secure voting?
The clock starts today. When the 40 day session ends, what will wait until 2020, or arrive on Gov Kemp’s desk to be signed?
There are two things I’ve thought before the election and remain committed to as we wait for more votes to be counted.
1. Georgia needs to change our Constitution to require a Secretary of State to resign if running for a different office. Changing the Constitution shouldn’t be the path to solving every problem, but it is the only way to address the less than above-board election this year, and protect future contests.
2. Yes, Nancy Pelosi has raised lots of money for Democrats, and yes, she corralled Democrats during difficult issues (Democrats say Pelosi has eyes in the back of her head, knows who is in the room, and how they will vote at any given moment). When do we make room for a new leader like this if not now? Could Pelosi be an interim Speaker with a transition plan to pass the gavel, as suggested by my friend and former Congressional candidate Carol Miller of New Mexico? With a wave of newly elected “firsts” across the country, it is time to pass the role of Speaker to someone with solid knowledge of the House and Congress. There is a role for Pelosi, but it shouldn’t be as Speaker of the House.
Early voting is underway across Georgia with hotly contested races for Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, Insurance Commissioner, and of course Congressional districts. Being an informed voter requires doing the homework, and one of the best ways to do that is to listen to the candidates themselves. I love political pundits and editorial columns more than most people, but someone else’s coverage of what a candidate says isn’t the same as hearing them yourself (or reading their policy positions on their web sites).
Georgia Public Broadcasting and the Atlanta Press Club are hosting multiple candidate debates that are free and easy for the public to access online. Watch live or find them later on demand, or do both to go back and make sure you are clear on what was said, or just as important, what wasn’t said.
Whether you’ve made up your mind or not, these debates are good opportunities to learn more about the candidates. Time consuming? Sure.
But Georgia state senate and house members, and US House members, have a total of 17,520 hours on the clock during the two years as your representative. Four year representatives are in for 35,040 hours. Invest a little of your time over the next few days to know the candidates better.
Current leadership in the Georgia General Assembly never fails to disappoint. This year’s session has been a catalog of hate-baiting legislation against LGBTQ citizens and people of faith (and no faith). Rape victims have been dismissed, and Georgia’s Guns Everywhere mentality threatens campuses across our state.
Creative Loafing Atlanta didn’t wait until the end of the session to announce this year’s Golden Sleaze Awards. If you want to hear keen political analysis of this year’s General Assembly session in Georgia, tune in to GPB’s Political Rewind at 3:00 this afternoon.
During the rare evening meeting of the Washington County Board of Commissioners (WCBOC) last month, the Commissioners adopted a change to the Washington County Regional Medical Center (WCRMC) Hospital Authority (HA) that now officially places full control of the Hospital Authority in their hands.
The Commissioners approved a change to the HA that allows the Commissioners to appoint, and remove, all members of the HA.(Appointments_to_the_Hospital_Authority)
After it passed WCBOC Chair Horace Daniel said they made official what they were already doing.
After the monthly WCBOC meeting on January 14, 2016,, the Commissioners went into Executive Session with Hospital Authority Chair Rob Mathis and Vice-Chair Marc Sack. The Sandersville Progress coverage the following week quoted County Attorney Tom Rawlings saying, “We had a nice discussion about appointees/potential appointees to the Hospital Authority,” said County Attorney Tom Rawlings. “We had a nice discussion with current members of the Authority and the Commissioners about the makeup of personnel – those are personnel issues as well.”
Members of the Hospital Authority are volunteers- they aren’t paid. They don’t get paychecks from WCRMC because they aren’t hospital personnel.
The pedestrian shorthand for what qualifies for Executive Session is real estate purchases, personnel, and litigation. The January 20th issue of the Progress included a letter to the editor raising concerns about Open Meeting requirements. (The Open Meetings Rule was revised by the Georgia General Assembly in 2012. The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia posted a summary of the revisions on their site.)
The Hospital Authority held a called meeting the day after the Commission met. Mathis and Sack resigned. HA members Bobby Anderson and Adam Adolphus weren’t present, but the Progress reported that, “Written resignations were submitted.”
Jim Croome took up the work as the HA Chair, John Brooker, Jr replaced Mark Sack as the Authority’s Vice-Chair, and Carla Belcher became the Secretary. Other HA members are Andre Jenkins, Andy Crabb, Raven Smith, and Terry Jackson.
The Washington County Commissioners have now positioned themselves in a very powerful position in regards to WCRMC.
Clearly they thought it was important to have their own slate of Authority members. The Progress’ coverage quoted HA Chair Rob Mathis saying, “There were concerns about Board members being here that overlap with the previous administration’s tenure.”
In doing that, the WCBOC have also removed all institutional history from the Authority. If an Authority member has a question about what happened, say, two years ago, there isn’t a single member among them who can answer. As a student of history, Edmund Burke’s quote, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” comes to mind.
Since the Commissioners will be able to appoint, and remove, all Authority members, will they tolerate members who won’t march in lockstep with their vision? Is our county now set up to see a revolving door of HA members if they don’t agree with directions passed down to them from the Commissioners?
The Commissioners have spent over $116,000 on a consultant whose best recommendation to date is a two page document that includes a request for more consultants.
They will soon have a stranglehold on who will sit on the Hospital Authority.
And they are asking Washington County property owners to back a $15.4M bond in May.
We can only hope the Commissioners know as much about running a hospital as they think they do.
Nothing says exciting reading like a county bond resolution. If you want to pour over the legalese before Washington County citizens vote on the proposed $15.4M hospital bond in May, this is a short read. WCBOC_bond_resolution_WCRMC_Feb_2016
It only took three days before the Georgia General Assembly saw a bill filed that, if passed and signed by Governor Deal, will mark us a state that allows discrimination based on religious faith. Filed by Republican Representative Kevin Tanner of Dawsonville, HB756 allows business owners the right to deny services or the selling of goods to a “religious organization” or for a “religious or matrimonial ceremony” if the business owner says the organization or ceremony conflicts with his/her right to exercise their religious freedom.
That means HB756 legalizes discrimination by florists, bakers, bridal shops, caterers, wedding sites, and other businesses connected to the wedding industry, simply because the business owner personally opposes the marriage. That’s legislative code for opposing same-sex marriage.That also means the business owner can do the same if they don’t like the tenants of a religious organization.
In other words, if you don’t worship where I worship, I don’t have to treat you like I would the members of my church when you come into my place of business.
I used the word “church” because HB756 specifies churches for protection under this law. Temples, mosques, and other places of worship are not described at all, just churches.
HB756 reads, “the term ‘religious organization’ means a church, a religious school, an association or convention of churches, a convention mission agency, or an integrated auxiliary of a church or convention or association of churches…”
Christians go to church, Jews attend synagogues or temples, and Hindus and Muslims worship in temples. Tanner and Hb756 co-sponsors Tom Rice, R-Norcross, Randy Nix, R-LaGrange, and Paul Battles, R-Cartersville, know this, and their choice of words is telling. They want to make sure churchgoers are afforded the right to discriminate.
Speaker of the House David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, is only supporting Tanner’s other bill, HB757, called the “Pastor Protection Bill,” a bill that allows a minister to decline a request to perform a marriage ceremony if it conflicts with his/her beliefs.
Of course there shouldn’t be legislation allowing a person who is licensed by the state to perform legal ceremonies, to deny services to anyone, but this move to “protect” pastors pales in comparison to Tanner’s HB756.
The wedding industry is huge, and state coffers benefit greatly from them. Hotel rooms are booked, gas tanks filled, gifts sent, clothing bought, and bouquets tossed to guests. Legalizing hate in HB756 doesn’t make legal sense or good economic sense.
Georgia’s coal ash monitoring laws are awfully easy on power companies. The companies get to monitor their heaping piles of coal ash waste piles and ponds themselves.
Thank goodness the Altamaha Riverkeeper (aided by Tonya Bonitatibus, the Savannah Riverkeeper) checked up on the coal ash ponds at Plant Blanch, which abut Lake Sinclair, last weekend.
There was a lot of activity there on Saturday, with large trucks in and out at the ponds and generators buzzing due to the tremendous amount of rain recently.
What was flowing into the lake just didn’t look like normal runoff, so Jen Hilburn, Altamaha Riverkeeper (ARK), put in a call to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Hilburn said in a press release, “I am deeply concerned about what sounds like pumping of water into Lake Sinclair. If this is coming directly from the coal ash ponds into the lake, it could pose a threat to our community on the lake as well as many others who utilize its waters. Georgia Power appears to be delibrately dumping coal ash waste directly into the lake. I am surprised that no-one I spoke with on Lake Sinclair had been notified in anyway by Georgia Power of their activities”
While ARK, and concerned citizens, wait to hear back from the EPD, the Riverkeeper is advising that no fish be consumed from Lake Sinclair until more is known about the safety of the water.
What can Georgians do in the meantime?
Our General Assembly convenes next week. Ask your state legislators NOW to require stricter monitoring of the coal ash waste landfills and ponds that pepper our state. Even though wind and solar are becoming a larger part of our fuel resources, the heavy metals and toxins in coal ash waste are forever. As last weekend demonstrates, shuttering a coal plant like Plant Branch doesn’t solve the problem of safely storing the contaminated waste it has left behind.
Allowing Georgia Power and other coal burning companies in our state to self-monitor their toxic waste isn’t working. The Georgia General Assembly can do something about that beginning next week.
The Carbon Pollution Standards for new power plants announced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on August 3rd confirm that Plant Washington will not get a “pass”, adding yet another hurdle to the development of one of the last proposed new coal plants in the country.
The new standards rely on partial capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions. Plant Washington project spokesman Dean Alford has said that such a standard will result in cancellation of the coal-fired project because it was not designed to meet the standard. To avoid that outcome, the project developer, Power4Georgians, LLC (P4G) sought to convince EPA that the project had “commenced construction” when the standards for new sources were first proposed in January 2014.Under such circumstances, Plant Washington would be considered an existing source exempt from the new standards
But as Alford and P4G are now finding, there’s a difference between saying something and proving it.
Almost two years ago, in the draft version of the standards, the EPA specifically addressed Plant Washington and another proposed coal-fired plant in Kansas. The agency took the developers at their word that the plants were under construction and therefore qualified as existing sources.But EPA also said that if either plant failed to qualify as an existing source, and was therefore classified as a new source, the agency would consider granting special standards due to the unique circumstances that both already had their construction permits.The idea was that these two sources, the last two coal plants still supposedly under development in the country, would get special treatment – perhaps a standard less stringent than that applied to other new sources.Otherwise the two lingering plants might not get built despite their “sunk costs.”
But last week, in the final rule, EPA said it is “unaware of any physical construction that has taken place at the proposed Plant Washington site,” and noted that a recent audit of the project had described it as “dormant.” EPA said it appears that Plant Washington did not commence construction when the new source rule was proposed, and would therefore likely be considered a new source should it ever be constructed.
The EPA pointed out that in October 2014, P4G received an 18-month extension on Plant Washington’s air permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The EPA went on to say that the possibility of Plant Washington being built and operating is “too remote” to merit an exemption from the new carbon emission standards.
So Plant Washington is not an existing source.But what kind of carbon standard will it get? Remember that EPA said it would give Plant Washington and the Kansas project their own new source carbon standards.Well, on this point, EPA punted.Why?Because the agency views it as so unlikely that these projects will actually go forward that it doesn’t want to spend the time coming up with individualized standards.In the agency’s words, “because these units may never actually be fully built and operated, we are not promulgating a standard of performance at this time because such action may prove to be unnecessary.”
EPA puts the ball P4G’s court, telling the developer that it must formally request a determination of its status — new or existing —before EPA can decide whether and what kind of standards should apply to its carbon emissions.
P4G has had the ability since January 2014 to seek this so-called “applicability determination,” which would clear up once and for all the question of its status under the new standards.In fact, under Alford’s leadership, P4G sought such an “applicability determination” from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, but later chose to withdraw that request before the state agency could respond. Rather than clarify the project’s status, Alford opted to pursue an 18-month extension of the construction deadline under Plant Washington’s state-issued air permit. Alford got the extension, but this did little to convince EPA of P4G’s claim that the project had commenced construction in January 2014.Instead, EPA arrived at the opposite conclusion: that Plant Washington is going nowhere fast.
Thanks to EPD’s generosity, Plant Washington still has 8 months left on its deadline to construct under the air permit.But the project’s water discharge permit, another critical piece of the project, expired in March of this year. P4G failed to timely file an application to renew the permit prior to its expiration, prompting EPD to fine P4G.EPD gave P4G thirty days to cure the defect but P4G missed that deadline as well.These are not the actions of a project developer intent on meeting its construction deadline.
And here in Washington County, there are no signs the coal-fire project is going forward, even at a snail’s pace. No ground has been broken, no Power Purchase Agreements have been announced, and no financier willing to pour the necessary billions into the project has emerged.
The EPA was correct in its refusal to exempt Plant Washington from the new carbon emission
standards.The plant is not needed and would be a major source of carbon emissions.
Over 8.5 years have passed since this boondoggle plant was first announced, and its future is not one bit brighter than it was on the cold, gray, January day when it was unveiled. If Mr. Alford returns for yet another permit extension next year, the state would be wise to tell him that the final buzzer has sounded and no more time can be added to the game clock
Just some of the news I’ve been catching up on today:
Maggie Lee at the Macon Telegraphhas an article about last Monday’s carbon pollution rules and the shift already underway towards renewal energy sources in Georgia.
Jay Bookman at the Atlanta Journal Constitutionpoints out that the world didn’t come to an end years ago when Atlanta’s air quality was classified as “non-attainment” and the city was required to take action to reduce smog and other problems (the article concludes behind their pay wall).
The AJC is doing a series of articles on climate change and the impacts already seen on Georgia’s coast called “A rising tide of concern.” The articles are behind a pay wall and include this: “David Stooksbury, the former state climatologist, said the unwillingness of leaders to address climate change is dangerous.’I don’t think that most of our elected officials understand the long-term seriousness of what climate change will do to the agricultural economy, public health and the environment,’ Stooksbury said. ‘It will be much cheaper and better for the state if we follow a well-developed plan starting now rather than waiting until we must respond.’ ”
Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources is quoted too, stating, “Last month the wildlife resources division of the Department of Natural Resources issued its State Wildlife Action Plan, or SWAP, which states unequivocally that “climate change presents unprecedented challenges.”
The AJC reports that Governor Nathan Deal had no statement on climate change. Senator David Perdue, who lives in a mansion on one of Georgia’s Barrier Islands, Sea Island, told the AJC, ““the scientific community is not in total agreement about whether mankind has been a contributing factor.”
The rising tides will eventually wash away the sand Perdue and others have their heads buried in on this subject and many others.
A group of white people held a demonstration at Stone Mountain yesterday to support continuing the display of the Confederate flag at the state-owned park. Based on the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s photo gallery, people who think being armed to the teeth in public are hate flag wavers too, or they thought this would be a good place for showing off their weapons. Photos tell the story better than words.
I posted this photo as a Friday Photo on August 29, 2014, almost two months after Georgia’s Open Carry (Guns Everywhere) law, passed by the Georgia General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal, went into effect.
Last night nine innocent people out for a night at the movies in Lafayette, Louisiana, became the victims of a shooting. Two victims died, seven are wounded.
Republican Presidential candidate and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who has signed over 12 bills increasing access to guns and where they can be carried in his state, told the media, “We never imagined this would happen in Louisiana.” Brushing off a reporter’s question about gun control after last night’s shooting rampage and murders, Jindal said the thing to do to do now is pray.
Governor Jindal doesn’t have much of an imagination.
As for prayers? How about praying for reduced access to guns, thorough background checks, removing banning the sale of assault weapons, and serious limits on where guns can be carried?
Hancock County, Georgia’s poorest among our 159 counties, is getting much needed help with access to health care via technology, community leaders, and innovators in delivering care to patients.
Right now people living in Hancock County have to drive to a neighboring county to see a doctor for any and all medical concerns. Even something as simple as an ear infection requires a drive of at least 25 miles to another county. Getting to the doctor can be a huge expense and feat of logistics for Georgia’s rural citizens, including those in Hancock County.
A new program, with a price tag of just $105,000, will now bring state of art health care to Hancock County’s citizens. Patients, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT), and doctors, connected through secure technology, will work to determine medical problems and where a patient needs to receive care. Emergency room trips and the cost of care should be reduced, while patient health outcomes, and the establishment of medical homes for patients, should improve.
I don’t want to diminish the importance of this program for Hancock County, which has Governor Deal’s support.
But it is important to understand that making access to health care easier and more affordable for Hancock County’s citizens via technology, isn’t enough to address the failure to provide affordable health care to all of Georgia’s citizens.
And a pilot program announced by the Rural Health Stabilization Committee last week won’t either. The Committee will create four hub and spoke type health care delivery sites. Dcotors and EMTs, along with the patient and technology, will assess medical problems and get the patient to the appropriate place for care.
Using technology to care for patients isn’t new in Georgia. Telehealth has effectively been used for emergencies, specialty consultations, and mental health care in our state for years. What these programs offer should increase access to very good health care, reduce costs, save time, and improve patient health outcomes.
But these programs aren’t going to solve the bigger problems of delivering health care to Georgians and making it affordable. The Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee wasn’t convened to address Medicaid Expansion. Gov Deal’s spokesman Brian Robinson has been clear about that.
Governor Deal remains a staunch opponent of saving our state millions of dollars with Medicaid Expansion and improving access to health care for underserved Georgians. Instead, he and his buddies in the Georgia General Assembly, chose to constrict access to health care via Medicaid Expansion. That also means our elected officials have redirected the federal tax dollars Georgians send to Washington every year to states who have chosen to expand care and reduce costs with Medicaid Expansion.
Hancock County’s new telehealth program, coupled with the hub and spoke pilot program designed by the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee, are big pluses for a few communities.
Governor Deal and the General Assembly can do more for Georgia’s citizens who need access to health care. We need more than a lick and a promise.
Last week the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Gov Nathan Deal said this about Georgia’s families where children are abused, or worse, murdered,“When was the last time the press or anybody else asked the greater family, ‘Why didn’t you do something about this?’ It really galls me, quite frankly, to see an able-bodied grandparent complaining about the fact that DFACS didn’t do something to protect her grandchildren. And my question is, well, where were you?’ ” (DFACS is the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services).
Where were these grandparents? US Census data from 2012 says this about grandparents and their grandchildren:
Number of grandparents living with grandchildren 265,530
Percent responsible for grandchildren 46.9
Percent of grandparents raising grandchildren for 5+ years 38.8
Percent of households with no parent of grandchild present 32.8
Percent of grandparents over 60 years old 34.1
Percent living in poverty in 2011 25.2
Number of households with grandparents and grandchildren 171,939
Percent of all households in Georgia 4.9
Grandparents in Georgia who care for their grandchildren are eligible for a whopping $50 per month from the state of Georgia. Have you priced diapers, day care, or children’s books lately? Fifty dollars doesn’t begin to make a dent in the costs of raising a child.
Single grandparent Deborah Paris, who is raising three grandchildren, told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer “Our system will pay a foster care parent to take care of children and supply and do what they need for them,” she said. “But me, as a relative or actually grandparent, you give me little to no assistance. … Our system is just awful.”
We need to address multiple problems concerning the welfare of children in our state. Gov Deal shouldn’t begin by making grandparents the scapegoats where the state has failed.