Sunday Reads, March 6, 2022
The Gold Dome version of ‘Survivor’ continued last week as bills passed either the House or Senate to stay active beyond Crossover Day on March 15. The GOP-controlled legislature took care of its base with bills that emphasized priorities already set by Gov. Brian Kemp. Unlike the reality TV game, alliances remained clear as the bills headed for consideration in the other half of the Capitol. At least one loser measure wound up buried, well, in the Okefenokee.
The House and education
Three measures affecting the educational environment for students and teachers, and given vocal support by Gov. Kemp, advanced from the House to the Senate:
- House Bill 1: This would eliminate “free speech zones” on college campuses to allow anyone to say almost anything anywhere on campuses. Proponents say it will ensure free speech; critics say it opens students up to harassment from others, including non-students.
- House Bill 1084: This action would prevent teachers from promoting “divisive concepts” in schools, such as topics like racial history. Proponents say it will protect students; critics say it will shield students from topics that encourage critical thinking and muzzle teachers.
- House Bill 1178: This bill creates a process that allows parents to demand access to and challenge a teacher’s classroom materials. Proponents say it gives parents a greater say in what their children are taught; critics say other laws already cover the issue and sets up grudge-related complaints. The Senate already passed a similar measure.
- Both houses have passed a state budget. With a few details to iron out, the new budget will likely provide for a tax refund, more robust funding for schools, millions to overhaul the state’s prison system, upgrade cash for state parks and raises for state workers and teachers. The House will see the next version soon.
Senate bill targets homeless help
Senate Bill 535 was the topic of a hearing on Thursday. It would ban the use of federal funds to build permanent housing for homeless persons. The measure would penalize cities and nonprofits that work to help find housing for those in need. The bill, which targets Atlanta but affects all municipalities with higher than state average homeless rates, sits for now in the Oversight Committee. The legislation is being pushed by a policy group out of Texas. Coastal Georgia Sen. Sheila McNeill is a co-sponsor.
Okefenokee bill gets stuck
Getting a supportive proclamation from the governor and a strong show of support from high-ranking legislators and nearly all the Coastal Georgia delegation wasn’t enough. The bill to protect Trail Ridge from mining was declared dead in the House Natural Resources & Environment Committee. The area, between two rivers and adjacent to the federally protected Okefenokee Swamp, is threatened by a proposal to mine titanium. The committee chairman said the action would be premature since the Georgia Environmental Protection Division hasn’t ruled on whether to permit the work. Bills that aren’t passed this year must be reintroduced for the next Legislature in January 2023. Three Coastal Georgia representatives are members of the House committee: Don Hogan, committee secretary, Dist. 179 (serving southern Glynn County); Jan Tankersley, Dist. 160 (Bulloch, north Bryan counties);and Buddy DeLoach, Dist. 167 (Long, McIntosh and northern Glynn counties).
To learn more about the environmental relationship of Trail Ridge, the Okefenokee and mining near the largest black water swamp in North America, Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “GA Today” featured the topic on Friday. Here’s a link to the broadcast and transcript, with host Steve Fennessey and The Current’s own Mary Landers. It’s a great way to get caught up on the topic and the issues around it.
Covid: 2 years, 30,049 Georgians
It’s been 24 months from the date we all moved at least 6 feet away from each other to escape the threat of COVID-19 and its offshoots, Delta and Omicron. While the time changed our lives, others didn’t get a chance to experience discoveries, fight over masks or gain new skills. On Friday, the pandemic death toll in Georgia surpassed 30,000. In Georgia, 5,733 additional deaths are listed as “probable,” meaning Covid-related but unconfirmed. While the threat lessens, we must all remember those who died and learn how to avoid those losses caused by excessive risks, inconsistent health care access and simple mistrust. And if you still feel uncomfortable in a crowd, it’s still OK to mask up.
This edition’s link to consider comes from The Pew Charitable Trust in the form of a survey looking at American’s concerns as we come out of the pandemic into state and national election cycles.
Read the full survey and analysis here. It provides food for thought as we approach the next election and weigh our choices.
Camden challenge doesn’t stop vote
Camden County lost another bid last week to shut down voting on whether it should buy land for the Spaceport Camden project. In a ruling on Friday, Superior Court Judge Frank Scarlett denied the county’s argument that the election results shouldn’t count. Probate Judge Robert Sweatt Jr. ordered the election after 10% of the county’s elected voters petitioned for a referendum, a redress allowed under the Georgia Constitution. The election is Tuesday. More than 2,000 people cast ballots during early voting opportunities.
Your second cup: Addressing history
With the legislative fervor around teaching and “tough topics,” we found two pieces this week that reflect educators’ perspectives: Students want to understand these types of issues and want to discuss them. One, from EdWeek, looks through an educator’s lens at how better and courageous discussions about America’s divisions, Ahmaud Arbery’s death and definitions of justice could unite us all. Another, from The Atlanta Journal Constitution, comes from faculty perspectives at Clark Atlanta University, an HBCU where critical race theory is taught as a way to create laws that are fair to all.
The Georgia House passed three controversial Republican education bills on Friday, despite fierce opposition from Democrats.
A bill in the Georgia Senate would ban local governments from using federal dollars to build permanent housing for homeless individuals and further financially penalize cities that have a higher-than-average homeless population.
Bipartisan legislation to ban mining near the Okefenokee Swamp has fallen by the wayside, despite the backing of some of the most powerful members of the Georgia House of Representatives.
Challenge to Spaceport Camden referendum rejected, but dispute could continue.
The mid-year budget covering state spending through June 30 includes $93 million to reflect an increase in public school enrollment reported last fall, $388.2 million to fully fund the state’s K-12 student funding formula and $432.5 million to upgrade the prison system.
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