Sunday Solutions – March 5, 2023

The Georgia General Assembly’s been busy and Crossover Day is nigh. Buckle up…. In the meantime, we’ve got some alternatives to the legislative chaos: a deeper look at the debate over Cumberland’s horses, tickets to the great outdoors and how a new generation is watching the justice system.

Georgia Capitol

Business at the statehouse

State lawmakers have been scurrying like squirrels in late fall to get bills passed by at least the House or Senate before the Crossover Day gavel falls on Monday night. At that point, it’s the likely end for measures not addressed in either body. We say “likely end” because issues can be resurrected if they are attached to a bill that someone could argue was “related.” Then, the surviving measures are the focus of the last days of the 40-day annual session.

We’ve had a regular feed of stories over the past few days from our statewide news partners. You can find them here to see what your hired representatives are working on. And, if you like or don’t like what you see, you can find the person who’s supposed to represent you here.

Highlights include a bill to ban drop boxes for voters, regulations for solar energy installers, strict penalties for protesters, school safety training with no regulation on guns, and school voucher program enhancements. Also in the mix: The Senate votes on rules that set up an authority to remove elected district attorneys. Another bill designed to create safe camping for homeless people has become an audit of homeless program. And the issue everyone predicted to be a hot potato, gambling, has been momentarily stymied as anti-gambling forces allied with those who favor a constitutional amendment that would allow all forms of gambling, including horse racing. Outstanding and not slated for a vote at this time: new rules for the unregulated title pawn industry and protections for the Okefenokee swamp.

Meanwhile in Glynn County: 2 pleas

Former Glynn Conty Police Department Captain David Hallwer and former Sergeant David Haney entered pleas last week for obstruction of an officer. They will not serve jail time but will surrender their Georgia police certifications. The “Alford” pleas allowed them to plead guilty while maintaining their innocence in a three-year case that involved illegal behavior by narcotics officers and the former police chief as part of a special drug enforcement squad. Two defendants remain, including the former Glynn police chief John Powell. Public safety reporter Jake Shore was in the courthouse for Haney’s plea hearing.

dome stairs
The Georgia Capitol is bustling with lawmakers and lobbyists. Starting this year, lawmakers’ conversations with lobbyists and others are exempt from court proceedings and public view. Credit: Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder

Not-so-public representatives?

One Senate bill, in particular, is worthy of special attention of anyone who’s interested in government transparency or special rights for officials. On Thursday, the Senate voted 53-0 without debate for SB 215 that would hide identifying public information for all levels of state, county, city and federal employees and elected representatives — including addresses, business licenses or permits and phone numbers. Another bill, SB 176, attaches penalties for identifying government employees in documents. It goes to the Senate floor on Monday. The redactions would be available for more than 700,000 people as defined by the vague and wide-ranging bill.

Bad news for city and county clerks: Clerks’ offices, already burdened in most counties, would be asked to find and redact all locally held online references to a person and complete the work in 30 days. They’d have to look at all records for any entry that’s on the bill’s giant list of data that can be hidden. Where do you start? Addresses — just one of dozens of data pieces listed — are required for many county or city applications or licenses and it’s in a public local government website if your county publishes property tax records. A short list of possibilities that depends on what each county or city keeps online: personnel checks, firearms permits, property records and transactions, vehicle registrations, professional licensing, police reports, legal bar registrations, parking tickets, mortgages, business registrations and licenses, educational records, campaign finance disclosures, ownership and contractor inspections and licensing….the potential list is very long and the scope of the bill is very wide and confusing. For employers and mortgage lenders: Background checks and credit verifications for those shielded would be much tougher.

Some personal data obviously can be used to harm someone — like credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and other points — and they are clearly a problem for all citizens, not just government employees. But some basic identifying information is necessary if you are in or want to be in a job responsible to the public and credibility of government. An example: If this bill passes, you won’t even know if your rep actually lives in your district because you won’t be able to check their address or where they claimed a homestead exemption. (A reminder: Legislators have already exempted themselves from the state’s open records laws. And under this session’s rules, the public has no access to where reps get their information or who influences them before they make a decision for their districts.)

While this bill may be intended to shield some public workers from harassment or fraud because they are just doing their jobs, here’s the upshot: If you’re an elected public official or a steward of the people’s tax money under this bill, no one will know who you are and what you own. This story from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about lawmakers who are landlords illustrates the point. Officials will be able to do the public’s business while those they represent won’t be able to know if their rep even lives in their neighborhood or has a conflict of interest of any type. The bill heads for consideration by the House.

Skidaway State Park

Get out: Your library card

As spring takes hold, we’re adding an occasional feature to this weekly missive – encouragement to get away from the screen and see more of Coastal Georgia. This week: Use your Live Oak Public Libraries card to pick up a pass to Coastal Heritage Society’s Savannah History Museum, Savannah Children’s Museum, Georgia State Railroad Museum, Old Fort Jackson, and Pin Point Heritage Museum. You can also get passes to Georgia State Parks and the Telfair’s museums. At Three Rivers Regional libraries, you can check out a Georgia State Parks backpack kit with binoculars, passes and guides for your adventure. Your library card is your ticket: Get out.

Cumberland Island feral horses
Both this mare and her foal died shortly after the photo was taken. Female horses have an especially tough time on Cumberland. They are often pregnant or nursing from a young age and have trouble finding enough to eat. Credit: Carol Ruckdeschel

The debate over Cumberland’s horses

The herd of feral horses on Georgia’s largest barrier island prominently figures in most tourist visits to Cumberland Island. It’s the only herd on the Atlantic Coast islands that isn’t managed, meaning they aren’t fed or cared for in any way. Island lovers and horse advocates say that has to change for the survival of the horses and the island itself. The animals’ lives are short, sickly because food is sparse. One in 3 foals dies, research shows. The National Park Service, which manages the island, says it can’t do anything because the horses are now considered native to the island, although an NPS report shows they are damaging the fragile island’s own survival in their searches for food. Environment reporter Mary Landers looks at the debate, the research and what the threats are for the horses and the island.

Scales of justice
Credit: Unsplash

Your second cup: Watching the system

Over the last 6 weeks, many Americans were watching the high-profile Murdaugh trial in South Carolina which gave gavel-to-gavel insight on how evidence in a real double murder case is presented and the court processes. However, that exposure is a rarity. Teen Vogue brings us a look at how a new generation of court watchers are scrutinizing the system for the every day processes that decide what American justice looks like. We hear from people who are passionate about understanding the process and encouraging fairness in the systems, and it’s worth your time to see a little of what they see. Here’s the story.


Georgia Senate committee passes bill that bans drop boxes. It also might violate federal law

Bill contains tweaks to mailing, deadlines but bans drop boxes while using disproven conspiracies theories to validate changes.

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Two former Glynn County police officers plead guilty

Glynn County ex-police officers pleaded guilty to misdemeanors after being accused of perjury and violating their oaths of office in 2020 pertaining to misconduct in a troubled drug unit, called GBNET.

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Bill to hide elected, other officials’ names, property from public passes 53-0 in Georgia Senate

The bill would require redaction of names and property ownership from state data bases of law enforcement personnel, politicians, and hundreds of thousands of other government officials.

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A series: The title-pawn trap

This series, in partnership with ProPublica, focuses on title pawn contracts, the lenders and the lack of regulation in a system that traps many borrowers who already need help to rise out of debt.

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The trouble with horses on Cumberland Island

Horse advocates say the National Park Service is violating Georgia law by failing to care for the horses in a humane way.

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Georgia House poised to set new regulations, oversight for state’s growing rooftop solar market

As part of the application process, businesses will have to provide financial disclosures, conduct background checks on employees and contractors who will be going out to homes and businesses and ensure that information about the companies is easily accessible to the public.

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Lawmakers: Georgia Senate passes divisive district attorney oversight bill on Day 27

The eight member panel could remove district attorneys and solicitor generals for a variety of issues, including refusal to prosecute certain crimes or physical or mental incapacity.

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Stiffer penalties for violent protests on the march after Georgia House passes GOP bills

One proposal would make it a felony to riot and add rioting to the list of offenses where bail must be set by a superior court judge. The second would carve a new arson offense for setting a police car ablaze and allow a judge to fine someone up […]

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Georgia Senate panel takes latest shot at passing school voucher bill opposed by public educators

Georgia public school families could get $6,000 to send their children to private school, but educators worry diverting funds from public classrooms will leave children behind.

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