Sunday Solutions — Feb. 26, 2023
It’s fair to say the annual pollen bomb has dropped across Coastal Georgia. As we fight our ways through the green fog, here’s other fallout from the week.
TitleMax gets $15 million fine
On Thursday, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined Savannah-based TitleMax $15 million for violating the Military Lending Act, designed to protect soldiers and families from predatory lending. The federal regulator found that the company used deceptive means, including falsifying information, to issue 2,670 so-called title loans over a five-year period to military members or their dependents in violation of the Military Lending Act and in contravention of the company’s own internal guidelines. In a second finding, the CFPB also cited a lack of oversight led to illegal or unnecessary fees charged to approximately 15,000 customers. The lender was castigated by the federal watchdog and the settlement requires a restructuring of the company’s oversight processes, a $10 million fine for a civil penalty and $5 million for restitution to those affected. The penalty is the second one — it paid $9 million in 2016. Regular readers will know that TitleMax practices have been documented in an ongoing series by The Current’s editor in chief, Margaret Coker, as part of ProPublica‘s Local Reporting Network. If you’ve missed some of the stories or want to learn more about the title pawn business and how it works, here’s the link.
What’s next: TitleMax with its 200 locations in Georgia, along with the entire title pawn business, faces few regulations in the state. Currently, House Bill 342 in the state General Assembly would force the industry to follow guidelines common for other lending institutions. It is assigned to the Banks and Banking Committee and listed for second read. We’ll be watching its progress.
- Did Savannah history wash up on Fire Island? Pieces of timber on a New York beach may be a clue to the resting place of the SS Savannah, the first vessel to cross the Atlanta Ocean partly under steam power. Experts are studying the piece of wreckage to identify it, but evidence is piling up that it could be from the ship that ran aground nearby in 1821 as it was bringing cargo from Savannah to New York. The novel sail and steam-powered vessel was a private venture by businessman William Scarbrough, and it should not to be confused with the 6 U.S. Navy vessels named after the port city.
- School district pays fees after court rules in support of women who read graphic material at public school board meeting: School board meetings might get a bit spicier if this court ruling is any indication. After a metro Atlanta case, boards are examining their public comment policies after this ruling that said board members had to allow public participation and couldn’t necessarily control the content. Here’s an earlier story for background on the Forsyth County squabble.
- Georgia Senate committee advances bill to ban some gender-affirming health care: SB 140 would restrict surgical treatment for minors but allow treatments to delay the onset of puberty. According to data from the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, an estimated 8,500 Georgians from age 13 to 17 identify as transgender.
Immigration: Education, workforce effects
Two stories about legislative actions and immigration this week seem to relevant for Coastal Georgia, as well as the entire state. The Georgia House Higher Education Committee heard a plea last week from Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R-Dalton) to give state college and technical students who are in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program a break on tuition. The students, who were brought to the country at an early age and are not U.S. citizens, pay up to 3 times more for their education at state schools. Carpenter says his House Bill 131 will help stem declining enrollment in the state’s advanced institutions and boost the workforce. The effort has been proposed and allowed to die several times in recent years. It’s another indication of the complex puzzle that includes the need for immigrant workers to supply Georgia’s large agribusiness needs, anti-immigration policy, and the state’s expressed desires for new skilled workers for other businesses and lower food prices.
A story from the nonprofit news site, Civil Eats, details the December death of a federal bipartisan measure that addressed critical food and agribusiness needs by providing a citizenship and educational path for foreign-born workers. The measure died in the Senate after passing the House of Representatives in two consecutive Congresses. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 70% of farmworkers are foreign-born and half lack legal status. Nearly 85% are permanent residents. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act (FWMA), later called the Affordable and Secure Food Act, was designed to ensure the agricultural and food industries have enough workers. It was a rare compromise between agribusiness and farm worker representatives at a time when shortages were killing farms and driving up food prices. The bill would have provided a “certified agricultural worker” status to allow long-time workers travel and work on a path to residency by working an addition 4 to 8 years, depending on whether they had been working on U.S. farms for more or less than 10 years. Legislation would require farmers to use E-Verify after 6 years; currently, it’s voluntary. The citizenship plan created a path to education for workers, which would raise their skills and add to the employment pool for other parts of the country’s workforce. The story thoroughly explains the tradeoffs and challenges for businesses and workers directly related to nearly every meal we eat and the prices we pay for it.
Your second cup: When social media fills gaps
Social media, for all its factual challenges, has some constructive uses. It shares facts over a wide group of people who may not have access to them. A story from The 19th, a nonprofit news outlet, illustrates what’s happening as public officials at local, state and federal levels continue to push more than 500 measures to limit instruction about race, racism and how each shapes U.S. society. Social media — the nature of which is open sharing of information. — has become a space to learn finer points of Black history. TikTok, podcasts, sharing social venues and now a network of schools are becoming the centers of documented history that’s being submerged in cultural battles across the country. A great local example of the effort is the Facebook site Savannah Black History, compiled daily by Rita Fuller-Yates, an Ohio native who earned her master’s degree at SCAD in Savannah. Her photos and researched texts about Coastal Georgia’s rich Black history of entrepreneurs, neighborhoods, high school and college classes, landmarks and leaders bring renewed context for all of us.
TitleMax fined $15 million for predatory lending to soldiers, families
The federal consumer watchdog group says the Georgia-based company intentionally evaded laws meant to protect military families from predatory lenders.
Georgia GOP lawmakers advance bill to ban some gender-affirming health care
Healthcare providers say surgical intervention in transgender minors is extremely rare. The American Academy of Pediatrics describes puberty blockers as reversible, but notes that the effect of sustained puberty suppression on fertility is unknown.
Dalton Republican state lawmaker tries again on legislation to give DACA students in-state tuition
DACA recipients, also known as Dreamers, would pay an opportunity tuition rate determined by the Board of Regents or State Board of the Technical College System, which could differ between institutions and be set to between 100% and 110% of the standard in-state tuition for the current year.
Three years after Arbery’s death, no arraignment for indicted DA. Here’s where it stands
Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jackie Johnson, who’s been indicted and swept from office, has not had an arraignment in the criminal case against her. She may not have one. She’s alleged to have tried to influence the outcome of the Ahmaud Arbery death investigation to help her former employee.
Study recruits Glynn residents to measure their bodies’ chemical levels
A pilot study is getting underway in Glynn County to determine if some of its residents carry a higher burden of chemical contaminants than average Americans.
Hydrologists: EPD using wrong data to predict mine’s impact on Okefenokee
Academic hydrologists from around the Southeast signed on to a letter supporting the use of a different river gauge than the one EPD chose.
Fair Districts GA study finds 2021 reapportionment delivered new non-competitive races
Out of the 56 districts in the state Senate, 16 Republicans and 14 Democrats elected had no challenger on the ballot. Among the House’s 180 districts, 52 Republicans and 43 Democrats who won in November did not have an opponent.
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