Sunday Solutions — March 12, 2023

Did you reset your clocks and spring forward toward St. Patrick’s Day? While the Georgia legislature passed a law sometime back to prevent the time change, we’re all still waiting on the same action at the federal level…..while we wait…’s some fodder for your dinner conversations.

A paddler’s view of the Okefenokee. Credit: UGA Coastal Ecology Lab

Not dead yet

At the risk of resembling the ex-parrot from “Monty Python,” the bill designed to protect the Okefenokee Swamp isn’t completely dead yet. While the Okefenokee Protection Act mired before Crossover Day, the Natural Resources and Environment Committee will give it a belated hearing anyway on Tuesday. It would appear the measure which was brought back from death in the last session may actually be dead again, but there are ways it could find life as part of another bill that’s still breathing. So if you want to watch the 2 p.m. hearing for signs of life, here’s the link. As a refresher: The bill wouldn’t affect the current mining plan requests, but it would work toward protecting more like it in the future.

lighted cigarette stick and white smoke wallpaper
Photo by Pixabay on

Health bills don’t make priority list

While the the Senate debated and voted to block the very rare instances of gender-affirming surgery for people younger than 18, legislators left other, more dominant health issues or causes on the table. Cigarettes, proven to cause cancer and kill when used as directed, will still be taxed at one of the lowest rates in the country. Two bills to ease the lack of obstetrical services in rural areas would have licensed and regulated community midwives remains in the House and the Senate. an act to require all employers to give paid sick leave also sits. Laws to close background check loopholes and strengthen storage requirements for firearms will see no action this year. So far this year, 141 Georgians have died from gun shots.

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Credit: Adam Winger/Unsplash

Reading is fundamental

One bill headed from the state House to the Senate is the Georgia Early Literacy Act, which sets priorities for systems so they’ll focus on reading skills for students in kindergarten through 3rd grade. That’s no easy lift in a state that still hasn’t mandated Pre-K learning. The bill to do that remains untouched in the House. Even when pandemic funding aid is available, it’s not always reaching the students who need it. The nonprofit education journalism website, Chalkbeat, has a story this week that finds that most children who need to access tutoring — the best way to bridge the gaps — can’t get the help they need, despite billions available for it from Covid relief funding. Reporters looked at districts across the country, including several in Georgia.

Another story, from the nonprofit education and tech site EdSurge, discusses how some districts are using aritificial intelligence voice technology to help students improve their reading skills. One program is in Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools.

Your second cup: A bad situation gets worse

One bill that went to Governor Brian Kemp last week extended federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits to pregnant women for one year. Despite an amendments designed to deny benefits to some, it passed 50-1. The bill sponsored by Brunswick’s Sen. Mike Hodges was hailed as a step toward improving maternal health. Currently, the average benefit of $280 a month currently affects 5,343 Georgia families.

Careful readers will know that this newsletter hasn’t shied away from pointing out Georgia’s dismal maternal mortality rate. For women in rural parts of the state or Black women in any part of the state, pregnancy and childbirth means a shortage of obstetric care and a much higher chance that something could go wrong. Across the country, the Covid pandemic only made things worse. MuckRock, a data-driven journalism group, has compiled data from the past few years. You can read how they pulled numbers, charts and analysis. It’s a valuable deep dive of data to illustrate the situation as women’s health care gets harder to find.

For a stellar look at the dire situation in Georgia and the people it affects directly, nonprofit Capital B in Atlanta has a series of stories “Dangerous Deliveries” that is a must-read on this topic. The deep accountability reporting combines data and the personal stories to give the full picture of Georgia’s policy failures that leave broad rural care deserts in the state and Black residents three times more likely to die in childbirth.

In fairness, you may need a whole pot of coffee to digest all this, but it’s worth your time if you want to understand a deep, complex challenge for all Georgians.

Georgia courts still struggle with pandemic-era backlogs, state Supreme Court Chief Justice says

Boggs thanked lawmakers or continuing to support veterans, mental health and substance abuse accountability courts, which cut down on recidivism, and for mental health reform.

More anxiety, less engagement: Educators say pandemic impact on student behavior remains concern

Behavioral challenges are not new to schools, but with the pandemic introducing additional trauma and stressors, educators fear they’ve become more prevalent. Even as some schools have strengthened support systems, teachers say it hasn’t always been enough to meet student needs — and experts warn the long-lasting effects on students are not yet fully understood.

Arbery killers appeal federal hate crimes convictions

Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, William Bryan file appeals to throw out hate crimes convictions, arguing race didn’t factor into chase and killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick in Februrary 2020.

Tutoring help reaches few students despite nationwide push

The startlingly low tutoring figures point to several problems. Some parents said they didn’t know tutoring was available or didn’t think their children needed it. Some school systems have struggled to hire tutors. Other school systems said the small tutoring programs were intentional, part of an effort to focus on students with the greatest needs.

State Senate gives final passage to TANF assistance for pregnant women

Federal law allows very low-income pregnant women to receive cash assistance, but Georgia law does not. The new bill would change that.

New CDC, state data shows how pandemic led to startling rise in maternal deaths

Before the pandemic, the United States had the highest maternal mortality rate among affluent nations, reflecting a multitude of systemic problems, from racial disparities in medical treatment and outcomes to high rates of chronic disease among people of child-bearing age to a lack of access to postpartum healthcare for many new mothers. The rate of maternal death for women aged 15 to 44 in the U.S. has only gotten worse, new data shows.

Embattled former Savannah police chief’s nomination for U.S. Marshal moves forward

in 2020, 77 Savannah police officers filed a complaint with the city’s human resources office, alleging that Minter made threats to officers, espoused favoritism, and failed to adequately equip the force, among 19 other complaints.

Crossover Day wrap: Flurry of bills pass at pivotal deadline

Some of the most spirited debate in the House Monday happened on a bill creating oversight panels for local prosecutors and another measure that would increase weight limits for tractor-trailers.

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