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Georgia editorial roundup

January 16, 2019

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Jan. 14

The Savannah Morning News on election-related issues:

The tick of the countdown clock to Election Day 2019 is deafening for those in the Georgia General Assembly.

The legislature opened its annual session Monday, 295 days out from the next General Election date. The fast approach makes choosing a replacement for the outdated touch-screen machines arguably the most pressing matter on their agenda.

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger wants the new system in place by the Nov. 5 vote. Any delay pushes the introduction of the process into the 2020 primary, which promises strong turnout — and mass confusion.

Tick tock? More like a gong being struck over and over again.

A study commission appointed by our now governor, Brian Kemp, issued a recommendation. The group proposes a machine that records voter choices in a similar fashion to the technology in use since 2002. Once the ballot is completed, however, the machine prints out a paper copy of the record that is then filed by optical scanner, with the paper record then placed in a lockbox as a back-up.

Commission members broadly supported the recommendation. Even one of the three who voted against it, Savannah’s own Sen. Lester Jackson, did so not because he disapproves of the machines, but because he wanted the commission’s guidance to be binding. “This is a case where you don’t want everybody entering their ideas when a commission has been looking at it for a year,” Jackson said.

Yet some are pushing for an alternative, including the study commission’s lone cybersecurity expert, Georgia Tech’s Wenke Lee. He favors a hard-marked paper ballot, which like the machine-printed record would be filed via optical scanner.

Then there are the cost considerations: the machine-and-printed-ballot option is estimated to cost more than $100 million; while the hand-marked paper alternative is projected at approximately $30 million.

The varying views are sure to drive debate, stretch out the decision-making process and shorten the window for purchase, distribution and training.

Not having the new system in place for a dry run this November would be a disservice to Georgia voters.

Beyond the process of casting ballots, the legislature must at least discuss other election-related issues.

The 2018 midterms caused consternation. Some Georgians, particularly Democrats and supporters of gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, alleged voter suppression and challenged the validity of the results. Many statutes and processes put in place ostensibly as safeguards contributed to the controversy.

Expect Democratic legislators to push for changes to exact match requirements and the voter roll purging process. Overhauls are unlikely, however, as Republicans widely agree these measures are vital to election integrity, and the GOP controls both legislative chambers, as well as the governor’s and secretary of state’s offices.

The leadership will likewise be reluctant to take action on precinct problems. County election boards decide the number and location of polling places, as well as how many machines are at each precinct. Critics last year questioned precinct closings, and long wait times were issues around the state.

Some have suggested the state play a larger role, but as two members of the Savannah-area delegation said, Georgia residents have long favored local control.

Those issues are secondary to taking action on the voting machines. Our local leading Democrat, Sen. Jackson, favors earnest debate about the other issues, but “if we have the right device for the public, a lot of the other questions about who is and who is not eligible will work themselves out,” he said.

As our legislators address election-related issues, we encourage them to remember that voting is a right, not a privilege. The legislature should strive to make voting as easy as possible without jeopardizing the integrity of the election.

Online: http://savannahnow.com/

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Jan. 14

Dalton Daily Citizen on longer summer breaks:

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Troubled by the diminishing summer breaks, state lawmakers created a study committee last year to examine “the issue of varied school start dates to determine its economic impact to the travel and hospitality industry.” A proposal from a Senate study committee, which included lawmakers, state officials and representatives from the business and tourism industries, was sent to local school boards and officials, whose reactions were less than enthusiastic.

The legislative proposal would bring back the longer summer vacations of the past and cut back on the number of shorter breaks throughout the school year. But school officials say such a change would wreck school calendars and testing schedules, according to a recent story reported by Jill Nolin, state reporter for CNHI.

Currently, many school systems end their school year by in early June and re-open in early to mid-August. That leaves only a few weeks of summer vacation time that must be crammed into the rest of June and July.

The legislative committee found that while the economic impact of more students working would be beneficial, an added bonus would be an increase in the vocational growth of the young workforce in one of Georgia’s leading industries. Plus, students who get more work hours during the summer would get a few more weeks of paychecks that may be needed for their college fund or other expenses.

The committee also cited concerns about costs associated with Georgia’s hot summer days, which is something we’ve all heard grumblings about. Costs to cool schools, buses and after-school activities are at their highest that time of year.

So what are the objections to the plan? School systems fear losing local control.

And we can understand that. But this would not be a “one size fits all” plan. After all, what may work in Murray County may not be workable or feasible in Valdosta in south Georgia.

What the plan offers are not strict parameters but “guard rails” that would require school districts to start the school year no earlier than seven to 10 days before Labor Day and end around June 1.

Local school systems could then adjust their schedules accordingly. Just as they have inserted a “mid-winter break” in February they can just as easily remove it.

Murray County Schools has the right idea. Its school year begins after Labor Day and ends by June. They did a local adjustment by adding a few minutes to the school day and the results work for them.

Shifting class time from August to spring would take advantage of the season’s milder climate. It’s a step school officials, who complain about funding cuts, could take to save money.

Lengthening the summer vacation gives families more options with regard to when they take vacations. In this high-pressured, social media-dominated world we live in, the more time families spend together is important. Plus it would give a nice boost to the state’s tourism industry.

Some may say we’re being a bit old fashioned with cries of “we used to do it that way, and it worked for us back then.” But we do feel that the legislature should continue to promote the idea of longer summer breaks but leaving the final calendar up to local control.

A longer summer break may be an old-fashioned idea, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad idea.

Online: http://www.daltondailycitizen.com/

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Jan. 13

Valdosta Daily Times on distracted driving :

Put the phone down.

You are going to kill somebody.

The person you kill may be you.

Texting and driving kills.

You have been warned about it.

Laws have been passed to prevent it.

You have heard about all the serious injuries and deaths caused by it.

But you still text and drive.

What is it going to take to get you to stop?

Georgia’s “hands free” law took effect July 1 last year.

It doesn’t appear to have even made a dent in the number of people texting and driving.

And people are dying on our roadways at an alarming rate.

The law prohibits drivers from having a phone or stand-alone electronic device in their hands or touching any part of their body while operating a motor vehicle on Georgia roadways.

A Bluetooth speakerphone, earpiece, electronic watch or wireless headset is allowed so long as it is not being operated by the driver’s hand. The use of GPS and navigational devices are allowed but drivers cannot have a phone in their hand or supported by any part of their body.

The law is designed to prevent cellphones from interfering with a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle and keep attention on the road.

Distracted driving is a danger to everyone on the roadways.

The law allows drivers to use “hands-free” technology to make or receive phone calls and use GPS devices, but drivers cannot at any time use their phones to write, read or send text messages, e-mails, social media and internet data. The use of voice-to-text technology is allowed, officials explained.

The hands-free law also prohibits drivers from watching videos as well as recording videos, though GPS navigational videos and continuously running dash cams are permitted.

Drivers can listen to music through streaming apps on their phone, but they cannot activate their apps or change music through their phone while driving. Music streaming apps programmed and controlled through the vehicle’s radio system are allowed.

Music streaming apps that also have video are not allowed since the law specifically prohibits drivers from watching videos.

For anyone still confused about what they are allowed to do when driving, you cannot have a phone in your hands or on any part of your body if you want to make or receive a phone call or use GPS.

You cannot legally text, e-mail or surf the internet on your phone at all when you are driving.

Put the phone down and drive.

Online: http://www.valdostadailytimes.com/

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