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April 30--  As we approach this year's federal elections, voters need to be informed of the seriousness of the country's federal budget crisis and the painful decisions that must be made by the candidates who win the election.

Take a few minutes and view this video.

< http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EW5IdwltaAc&feature=youtu.be

April 30--  The Range Fuels plant that was built, opened and shut down over the past few years north of Soperton has new life.

The $100 million dollar facility was sold on the Treutlen County courthouse steps to a New Zealand company for $5 million in January.

Manager Bud Klepper says the original plant ran out of money when venture capitalists and institutional investors decided not to bet on ethanol to supplement the U.S. oil supply.  When the investors pulled out, so did the U.S. Department of Energy which was backing the venture with a $78 million federal loan guarantee.

Klepper says the lack of any long term U.S. energy policy is the reason we remain at the mercy of foreign oil and he thinks the newly named "Freedom Pines Biorefinery" in Soperton has a role to play.

"Right now we're in a testing phase.  We're rehiring and retraining some of our operations personnel.  The plant right now is being tested not only for its suitability for the previous process but also for its suitability for the LanzaTech process," he says.

LanzaTech is a company founded in New Zealand in 2005 and headquartered in Chicago.  It uses a gas-liquid fermentation process that produces fuels and chemicals from biomass like pine trees which are plentiful in South Georgia.

"LanzaTech has a very broad spectrum of products they can make with their process and how they intend to do that in the Range Plant is being studied right now," Klepper says.

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April 29--  Twenty-three contestants took part in the world famous Vidalia Onion Eating Contest Saturday afternoon during the 2012 Vidalia Onion Festival.

{mosimage}After a two-year dry spell, Cody Peters regained his title in the 17 years-and-above category by downing seven Sweet Vidalia Onions in three minutes.  His personal best is 23 several years ago.

{mosimage}A 15-year-old from near Oak Park, Shea Kirby, is number one in the 12-to-16 age group.  She ate four and beat her twin sister Shannon, far right, by one-half onion.  Miss Vidalia Onion Kayla Ray (middle) helped count the number of onions gulped down by competitors.

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In the age group eleven and under, a fourth grader from Broxton, Tayon Wimberly, made his first trip to the Onion Festival and won by eating three-and-a-half onions.

April 28--Once again there was great participation in the Vidalia Onion Recipe Contest with over 30 participants and lots of hungry taste testers.  Two sisters, Pat Hadden and Gail Beasley won 3 of the 4 categories as well as the Grand Prize with the dish of A Field of Vidalia Sweet Onions.  For the second year in a row the Miscellaneous category was won by Jennifer Richter with the dish of Vidalia Surprise Cupcakes.

   
Grand Prize Winner
Name - Pat Hadden/Gail BeasleyDish - A Field of Vidalia Sweet Onions
Main Dish
1stName - Pat Hadden/Gail BeasleyDish - Vidalia Onion Fredo
2ndName - Randy RogersDish - Sweet Onion Chicken Crepes
3rdName - Jay BoyleDish - Vidalia Onion Soup
Side Dish
1stName - Pat Hadden/Gail BeasleyDish - Sweet Onion Congealed Salad
2ndName - Cynthia GallegosDish - Teriyaki Onion Kabobs
3rdName - Elizabeth FergusonDish - Stuffed Vidalias
Miscellaneous
1stName - Jennifer RichterDish - Vidalia Surprise Cupcakes
2ndName - Pat Hadden/Gail BeasleyDish - Martha Washington Balls
3rdName - Royce NettlesDish - Vidalia Onion Soup
Appetizer
1stName - Pat Hadden/Gail BeasleyDish - A Field of Vidalia Sweet Onions
2ndName - Audrey NettlesDish - Vidalia Onion Buffalo Bites
3rdName - Jennifer RichterDish - Pan Fried Onion Dip 
         

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April 28-- It was a perfect day for the Annual Vidalia Onion Run

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Cole Lynn won the men's Fun Run and 8-year-old Mariah Clements of Sandersville won the women's race.

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Laura Brannen of Register won the women's 5k with a 21:47. Martin Bett of Lithia Springs (right) had a 17:53 in the men's 5k, while his friend Reuben Mwei of Kennesaw (left) won the men's 10k with a 31:39.  Both are natives of Kenya.

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Lisa Espino, a student at Georgia Southwestern, repeated as the winner of the women's 10k with a time of 46:56

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This year’s Vidalia Onion Festival Rodeo once again features high school students from the Georgia High School Rodeo Association. One of this year’s participants, 17 year old Tyler Smith is from Fair Play South Carolina, but she chose to be part of the GHSRA. Why? Smith says, “they are very organized. Everyone is very, very friendly. I remember the first time, my freshman year, I came here, everyone came up and introduced themselves and they were so nice.” Smith says her best events are poles, goats and team roping. When asked about the hardest thing about doing those events, Smith says, “Balance. I do slip up sometimes, but I do stay with my horse. It’s all teamwork, and if I don’t have my balance, it just throws your whole run off.”

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The Onion Festival Rodeo is being held Friday and Saturday night at the Rocky Creek Saddle Club. It starts at 7pm each night and is 10 dollars for adults and 5 dollars for kids under 12. The Club is located on US Highway 1 South, 4.5 miles south of Lyons.

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April 27-- As CRCT testing fast approaches, we have an opportunity to reach each classroom with academic content through our morning television program since our weather station has been activated.  

Sixth grade students at Montgomery County Elementary School have been busy teaching “mini” lessons about science related topics.  Six students have been appearing on the school’s morning television program, GMME TV, teaching these “mini” lessons such as tornadoes and hurricanes to how simple and complex machines make our lives easier.   

Thanks to a grant we received, it has enabled the elementary school to purchase a WeatherHawk Weather Station to be used every morning on Good Morning Montgomery Elementary (GMME-TV).  One of the mini lessons the sixth graders presented was “How to read and understand weather data”.  During the lesson, students were taught how the weather station registers and records weather data that can help forecast and determine what weather conditions are like and how to make predictions about future weather events. 

In addition, students also learned about the functions of the barometer, anemometer, wind vane, rain gauge, as well as rain measurement.  The weather station records and saves data to be transferred daily to a central point in Denver, Colorado.  Friday is our “Quiz Day” when we have a ten question quiz presented live on the TV channel at the school.  Classes listen, discuss, and work cooperatively in each of the 25 homerooms to best answer the multiple choice questions.  The winning homeroom gets an “AirHead” chewy fruit bar along with a group picture aired on the show for the following week. 

{mosimage}Thanks to Brittany Braddy, Taylor Brazzanovich, Jansen Killian, Andrew Poole, Makayla Wells, and MaryBeth White, for making our “So What Do You Know about Weather and Science” segment possible. 

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April 27--  The 2012 Vidalia Onion Festival Children's Parade marched down Meadows Street in downtown Vidalia Thursday afternoon led by Miss Vidalia Onion Kayla Ray and her court.

April 26--  The family of a shooting victim is objecting to what they perceive as an unjust sentence in Toombs County Superior Court Thursday.

{mosimage}Sixty-two-year old Norman NeeSmith pled guilty to felony involuntary manslaughter in the death of 22-year-old Justin Patterson in the early morning hours of January 29, 2011.  He awakened to find Patterson and his 18-year-old brother, Sha'von, having sex in seperate bedroms of his mobile home with a girl he had raised, 18-year-old Danielle Rozier, and a 14-year-old girl.  Authorities said the younger girl invited the boys to the house.

Armed with a .22 caliber pistol, NeeSmith ordered the boys out of the bedrooms and threatened to call the younger girl's grandfather.  Police say NeeSmith was bloodied when he was pushed against a wall and fired his gun as the boys fled out a side door.  One bullet hit the ceiling and another struck Patterson in the side.  His body was found later outside in a nearby yard.  His brother left the scene after Patterson told him, "I'm not going to make it."

NeeSmith was initially charged with felony murder by District Attorney Hayward Altman, however, a year later he agreed to accept an involuntary manslaughter guilty plea just days before the case was scheduled for trial.

Patterson's father, Julius, told the court that decision angered his family who had been told the case would go to trial.

"My family and I are angry and disturbed by the fact that on February 27, 2012, the day the jury was scheduled to be selected, NeeSmith made a plea  contrary to what Altman said he would recommend.  Altman did not make us aware that he would recommend a guilty plea with charges being downgraded to involuntary manslaughter," he said.

The District Attorney said the decison to accept the plea is the most difficult decision he has had to make since taking office, but he disagrees that the Pattersons were not told in advance.

"I will not criticize the Pattersons because they lost a son, but they were informed early on that there was a high potential that we would plead this down to involuntary manslaughter.  We had that conversation on the Friday before the trial was supposed to start on Monday.  They were represented by attorneys at that time and we actually had a discussion later on about the actual plea negotiations after we accepted a plea on that day," Altman said.

{mosimage}Patterson's mother, Deede, cried when she heard the sentence. Earlier she told the court none of this would have happened if NeeSmith had called the police when he discovered her sons in his house.  "The question will always remain, why didn't he call the police.  Why?  Me and my family will have to visit my son's grave the rest of our lives," she sobbed.

Before being sentenced, NeeSmith faced the Patterson family and friends and said he was sorry.  "I'm sorry this happened to y'all.  It hurt me as much as y'all and people don't understand that.  A big part of me left that day, too, and I'm sorry, that's all I can say," he said.

Judge Cathy Palmer sentenced NeeSmith to ten years probation with a year to 14 months to be served in a probation detention center.

Among those covering the sentencing were a reporter and cameraman from the New York Times.  The paper ran a story earlier noting that unlike the the Travon Martin case in Florida, the killing of Patterson has eluded the spotlight.

The District Attorney says the only similarity between the two cases is that they are both tragic .

"Anytime you have the loss of a young man, it makes it very tough.  Here you have to deal with the fact that this occurred inside the defendant's home.  When he woke up, he didn't know what was going on.  He didn't invite them in and he woke up and heard noises and when you look at his right to defend his home and their rights, it was a tough decision and a tragic situation.  I feel for both the Patterson family and the NeeSmith family," Altman said.

April 26-- The Georgia Department of Labor announced today that the preliminary unemployment rate in the Heart of Georgia-Altamaha area declined to 10.8 percent in March, down six-tenths of a percentage point from a revised 11.4 percent in February. The jobless rate in the Heart of Georgia-Altamaha area in March a year ago was 11.6 percent.

Metro Athens had the lowest area rate at 6.7 percent, while metro Dalton had the highest at 11.6 percent.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined in March for the eighth consecutive month to 9.0 percent, the lowest rate since February 2009, when it was 8.9 percent. That is a decline of one-tenth of a percentage point from a revised 9.1 percent in February. The jobless rate was 9.8 percent in March a year ago.

Statewide, the rate went down because the number of jobs in March increased by 13,900 to 3,894,900. Also, revised numbers show the state gained 35,600 jobs in the past 12 months.

The employment sectors showing growth since March of 2011 were: professional and business services, 28,900; trade and transportation, 10,700; education and health services, 7,900; manufacturing, 5,900; and leisure and hospitality, 1,200.

Local area unemployment rates are not seasonally adjusted. Georgia labor market data are available at www.dol.state.ga.us

April 26--  A subsidiary of Stanley Farms in Toombs County is growing and using the state's Quick Start program to make it more productive.

{mosimage}(L-R) Seated Quick Start Exec Marla Lowe, Vidalia Valley's Vince Stanley and STC President Dr. Cathy Mitchell, standing David Yarbrough, State Representative Greg Morris, R.T. Stanley, Jr., Tracy Stanley, Brian Stanley, John Brewton, Heather Davis and State Senator Tommie Williams.

Vidalia Valley signed an agreement this week to train employees according to company President Vince Stanley.

"We're here today to celebrate our partnership with Quick Start which is going to help us with consultatioin and advice and help us be more efficient with our onions," he said.

Vidalia Valley produces some 50 products and processes relishes, salad dressings, salsas and sauces.  Stanley says things have changed in the Vidalia Sweet Onion industry.

"It used to be as easy as jumping on a tractor.  Things have changed and the economies have changed.  You have to be much smarter now and track your costs.  You're really only as good as your weakest link.  We have a lot of hands-on work going on and if those guys don't know what they're doing, it's really going to cost you," he notes.

Marla Lowe with Quick Start says it's mission is to help Vidalia Valley's workers manage change.

"We will design, develop and deliver customized job training and our program will finish here once we have trained all the current employees in implementing all the current technology they have here," she said.

Once the initial Quick Start training is completed, Southeastern Tech in Vidalia will provide ongoing training for Vidalia Valley workers.

The signing ceremony took place at the Stanley Farms shipping warehouse between Lyons and Vidalia with load after load of Vidalia Onions being shipped.  Vince Stanely says the onions this year are smaller but very sweet.

"Well we've got a very sweet onion, that's the main thing.  We do have some problems with a disease which is limiting the size of the onions, but we have plenty to go around," he said.

April 25-- The company that wanted to build a privately owned and operated jail in Montgomery County is facing bankruptcy.

Municipal Corrections LLC headed by Atanta businessman Terry O'Brien has been operating the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla since 2007 and has been in discussions with the Montgomery County Commission to do the same thing in Mount Vernon.

The economic downturn in 2008 put a hold on the plans for Montgomery County which has no jail and pays over $400,000 a year to house its prisoners in the Irwin County facility as well as other county jails.

"It was too good to be turn.  It would have been great and we'd be sitting pretty today if it had worked out," says Montgomery County Commission Chairman Franklin Brantley.

Now the question is, what's next?

"I guess our next step is to look elsewhere where we can farm out our prisoners for right now.  The cost we're paying to house prisoners now is signficant and we could build a 40-bed facility for what we're paying to house prisoners, but it's the operating cost to run a jail down the road that we have to look at.  I really don't know where we're going at this time.  We just have to sit down and see what we can afford, that's the toughest challenge," the chairman says.

Meanwhile, in Irwin County, the private jail is operating at about half capacity and officials are afraid it might close and take with it 200 jobs.

April 24-- A longtime Democrat from Ailey will represent the 12th Congressional District at the Democratic National Convention.

John Robert Brewer was elected at a meeting of district Democrats Saturday at Georgia Southern in Statesboro.  Brewer is one of five delegates elected to attend the convention September 4-6 in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Conventon delegates will nominate President Obama for his second term in office.

 

April 23--  This year's Vidalia Onion Festival is being billed as "affordable fun" as organizers try to attract as many folks as they can in a down economy.

With only a few exceptions, all of this year's festival events are located at the Vidalia Regional Airport including the opening ceremonies, street dance and fireworks show Friday night.  Saturday the festival midway at the airport features something resembling a min-state fair with a myriad of carnival rides and games plus various daredevil acts and demonstrations.

"We want people to be out there and enjoy themselves.  There's more to do, more to see and more than you've ever thought of doing at the Onion Festival.  If you've ever thought you've gone to the Onion Festival, you haven't," says Richard Williams of the Festival organizing committee.

Williams notes the best part is there is no charge to get in.  Parking is all you pay and that's $5 Thursday (for the carnival) and Sunday and $10 for Friday and Saturday.  Admission is free for as many people as you can pack in your vehicle.

{mosimage}Once you're in, you can enjoy the country music concert starring Craig Morgan Saturday night for free.  His latest hit, "This Ole Boy" is currently riding the country charts in the Top 20.

"We're going to play all of our hits.  We've had 14 in the Top Ten and we'll be doing all of those and some of the stuff off the new record.  We like to have a lot of fun.  We want people to come to the show and have a good time because they're spending their hard-earned money," Morgan says. 

Before getting into country music, Morgan was an Army paratrooper with the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions and he says it helped make him who he is today.

"I'm very proud of my service and the men and women who serve today.  It's a big part of my life and my family's life and what I get to do today.  As a singer now I get to go back and entertain them and I'm just real proud of them," he says.

April 23--  The Social Security Board of Trustees today released its annual report on the financial health of the Social Security Trust Funds.  The combined assets of the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Funds will be exhausted in 2033, three years sooner than projected last year.  The DI Trust Fund will be exhausted in 2016, two years earlier than last year’s estimate.  The Trustees also project that OASDI program costs will exceed non-interest income in 2012 and will remain higher throughout the remainder of the 75-year period.

 In the 2012 Annual Report to Congress, the Trustees announced: 

  • The projected point at which the combined Trust Funds will be exhausted comes in 2033 – three years sooner than projected last year.  At that time, there will be sufficient non-interest income coming in to pay about 75 percent of scheduled benefits.
     
  • The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 2.67 percent of taxable payroll -- 0.44 percentage point larger than in last year’s report.
     
  • Over the 75-year period, the Trust Funds would require additional revenue equivalent to $8.6 trillion in present value dollars to pay all scheduled benefits. 

“This year’s Trustees Report contains troubling, but not unexpected, projections about Social Security’s finances.  It once again emphasizes that Congress needs to act to ensure the long-term solvency of this important program, and needs to act within four years to avoid automatic cuts to people receiving disability benefits,” said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. 

Other highlights of the Trustees Report include: 

  • Income including interest to the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $805 billion in 2011.  ($564 billion in net contributions, $24 billion from taxation of benefits, $114 billion in interest, and $103 billion in reimbursements from the General Fund of the Treasury—almost exclusively resulting from the 2011 payroll tax legislation)
     
  • Total expenditures from the combined OASDI Trust Funds amounted to $736 billion in 2011.
     
  • Non-interest income fell below program costs in 2010 for the first time since 1983.  Program costs are projected to exceed non-interest income throughout the remainder of the 75-year period.
     
  • The assets of the combined OASDI Trust Funds increased by $69 billion in 2011 to a total of $2.7 trillion.
     
  • During 2011, an estimated 158 million people had earnings covered by Social Security and paid payroll taxes.
     
  • Social Security paid benefits of $725 billion in calendar year 2011.  There were about 55 million beneficiaries at the end of the calendar year. 
     
  • The cost of $6.4 billion to administer the program in 2011 was a very low 0.9 percent of total expenditures.
     
  • The combined Trust Fund assets earned interest at an effective annual rate of 4.4 percent in 2011. 

The Board of Trustees is comprised of six members.  Four serve by virtue of their positions with the federal government: Timothy F. Geithner, Secretary of the Treasury and Managing Trustee; Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security; Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services; and Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor.  The two public trustees are Charles P. Blahous, III and Robert D. Reischauer. 

The 2012 Trustees Report will be posted at www.socialsecurity.gov/OACT/TR/2012/ on Monday afternoon.

 

 

April 23--  Why is it that two school systems in the same county have such different graduation rates under the state's new method of tracking such things?

Earlier this month the Georgia Department of Education announced a new method of figuring graduation rates.  It's called the cohort method and it tracks how many students enter a school in the 9th grade and how many graduate from that school four years later.  

When the cohort method was applied to the 2011 graduation rate, the rate went down at many schools and the state's overall graduation rate decreased from 80 to 67 percent.

Oddly enough, the cohort system increased the graduation rate at Vidalia High School by about three percent to 77 percent.  However, at Toombs County High School, the cohort method decreased the graduation rate from 74 percent to just under 70 percent.  The rate also went down significatly in Tattnall and Appling counties.

Toombs County School Superintedent Dr. Kendall Brantley believes it's because Toombs County High School has a higher number of migrant students who seldom stay at the school a full four years.

"Those systems like Appling and Tattnall as well as Toombs with a very high migrant population are certainly impacted.  You have to always look at the demographics and see what students we are talking about and how they influence the graduation rates of the various school systems," he notes.

As for the impact on the migrant students and their education, Dr. Brantley says one alternative might be available through technology and the Internet.

"If I were a migrant parent, I would go into the virtual school business.  My child could get hooked up to a computer and take a virtual class wherever I am and that's a good alternative for migrant parents," he says. 

 

April 22--  Ninety-six contestants competed in this year's Miss Vidalia Onion Pageant sponsored by the Vidalia Charter Chapter of the American Business Women's Association.

This year's Miss Vidalia Onion is Kayla Ray, a 2011 graduate of Montgomery County High School who is entering Southeastern Tech next semester to study cosmetology.  She is the recipient of the $1,000 Sandra Way Scholarship awarded by ABWA.

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(L-R) Front row Little Miss Onion Seed Kensley Davis of Lyons and Little Miss Onion Toddler Sarah Duncan of Douglas.  Back row Miss Spring Onion Addison Wingate of Vidalia, Miss Vidalia Onion Kayla Ray of Vidalia, Junior Miss Vidalia Onion McKenzie Wilkerson of Vidalia and Little Miss Onion Sprout Kaitlyn Poole of Lyons.

April 21--  The Montgomery County Commission has passed a resolution supporting the Montgomery County school system and asking citizens in the county to do the same.  The resolution was signed at the commission's March meeting by Chairman Franklin Brantly and Commissioners Vernon Sumner and Brandon Braddy.  Commissioner Clarence Thomas was absent from the meeting and Commissioner John Carpenter voted against the resolution.

The resolution was presented to representatives of the school system at the commission's April meeting.

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(L-R) Lendle Hamilton, Board Member (representing the Board Members);Randy Rodgers, Superintendent; Franklin Brantley, Commission Chairman; Brittany Deen, Principal (Elem. School – accepting resolution for all the administrators); Rachel Thigpen, 4th grade student (accepting resolution for the entire student body);Debbie Thipen, (accepting resolution for all classified staff); Zellen Robinson, 4th grade teacher (accepting resolution for the entire teaching staff); Brandon Braddy, Commissioner

 

 

April 19--  Governor Deal's press office reports the following.

Gov. Nathan Deal today signed into law the Georgia Jobs and Family Tax Reform Plan, which delivers on the recommendations of the Georgia Competiveness Initiative and fulfills Deal’s campaign promise to reduce the state marriage penalty tax. The pro-jobs, pro-family reform cuts taxes for all Georgians and increases the state’s competitiveness. The signing took place during the Governor’s Awards Luncheon for the 2012 Manufacturers of the Year.

“This tax reform package makes Georgia a better place to run and grow a business, and makes it an even better place to raise a family,” said Deal. “These reforms could not have been made without the leadership of the General Assembly, and these significant changes will serve Georgians well.”

In addition to the reduction of the state marriage penalty tax, HB 386 will eliminate the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing – an initiative that will help the state attract more companies.

“The elimination of the marriage penalty in our income tax code will cut costs for Georgia families, totaling an estimated $140 million a year,” Deal said. “Furthermore, the removal of state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing is key to competiveness and to reaching our goal to make Georgia the No. 1 state in which to do business.

“Just this morning, our state secured another huge manufacturing project, Baxter Pharmaceuticals, that will invest over $1 billion and create 1,800 highly skilled jobs. I want business owners and entrepreneurs to continue to look at what we’re doing in Georgia and want to come here. With this new plan, I believe they will.”

Key components of HB 386 include:

Eliminates the state sales tax on energy used in manufacturing

Reduces the marriage penalty in our income tax code by cutting income taxes for married couples.

Eliminates the “birthday tax” on motor vehicles

Reinstates for sales tax holidays for back-to-school and green energy purchases

Revises sales tax exemptions on agriculture to ensure fairness and consistency

E-Fairness: Broadens the tax base and increases fairness by making online retailers play by the same rules as everyone else

Curtails abuse in our conservation easement income tax credit program for donation of conservation easements while maintaining this credit program

Caps retirement income exclusion for seniors at current level of $65,000 ($130,000 per couple).

Eliminates sales tax exemption for film productions

Creates a one percent sales tax exemption on commercial aviation fuel to make our fuel rates more competitive with other major airports.

For more information on Georgia Jobs and Family Tax Reform Plan, HB 386, please find the text of the bill here

 

April 19-- On Thursday, Governor Deal signed Senate Bill 410 authored by President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams (R-Lyons).  SB 410 will assign a numerical score rating for individual schools and school systems based on student achievement, achievement gap closure, and student progress.

{mosimage}“By signing SB 410, we are now moving towards a multi-tiered system which will hold our schools more accountable and provide true bench marks to track progress,” said Williams.  “The new criteria will provide a clearer and easier way of understanding how a school is performing and will also provide parents with the information and access to choose a quality school best-suited for their child.  I am very thankful to Governor Deal for signing this important bill into law and to all of those who diligently worked on SB 410 throughout the session.”

This bill will replace the current AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) system with a system that provides a more accurate measure of a school’s performance.  The current AYP system provides a “pass” or “fail” grade, which makes it difficult to track progress and incentivize improvements.  Moreover, transparency about performance will incentivize schools and districts to continue to improve.  This will provide new ways to reward schools that continue to make progress.

SB 410 will become effective July 1, 2012.

April 19--  Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp today condemned the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the ACORN-affiliated Project Vote organization for coordinating efforts behind a lawsuit that challenged the state’s compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The plaintiffs included the Georgia State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Coalition for the Peoples’ Agenda, which were represented by Project Vote, among others.

The Georgia Secretary of State has always remained compliant with the NVRA’s requirement that each state’s chief election official coordinate the implementation of the NVRA.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit alleged that the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) failed to offer a voter registration application with all applications, recertifications and renewals for assistance and with all change of address forms as mandated by the NVRA. The NVRA requires plaintiffs to give notice of alleged violations to Secretaries of State at least 90 days before filing a complaint so the agency can review its procedures and the procedures of other state agencies and correct them if required. Though the plaintiffs failed to provide specific information about the alleged violations, United States District Court Judge Charles A. Pannell, Jr. denied a motion by the state to dismiss the lawsuit.

The DOJ filed a “statement of interest” in the case, indicating that the agency agreed with the plaintiffs’ position. Interestingly, documents show that the DOJ has recently coordinated similar lawsuits with Project Vote in Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Louisiana.

Secretary Kemp stated, “The U.S. Department of Justice and left-wing interest groups are conducting a full frontal assault on the rights of states to manage their elections processes in a fair and secure manner, including registration, verification of citizenship and fraud protection. Georgians can be assured that we will continue to fight any attempt by this reckless administration to interfere with our election rights.

“The court’s decision to ignore the NVRA’s notice requirements and expand the scope of the law will cost Georgia taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars to comply with outdated and unneeded federal voter registration mandates and in attorney’s fees paid to venue-shopping interest groups. Despite allegations of widespread violations by DHS, it is apparent that this was not a lawsuit aimed at promoting increased voter registration as seen by the more than 5.8 million registered voters in the state as of April 1st.

“The provisions of the NVRA at issue in this lawsuit are clearly being misconstrued by federal courts, as evidenced by this court’s actions and the decision this week by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that Arizona’s proof of citizenship requirement to register to vote violates the NVRA. Based on these decisions, it is clear that Congress should immediately reexamine and clarify the NVRA so states are no longer required to duplicate voter registration efforts, and allow states to ensure that only U.S. citizens can register to vote.”

 

 

April 19-- State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler announced today that Georgia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined in March for the eighth consecutive month to 9.0 percent, the lowest rate since February 2009, when it was 8.9 percent. That is a decline of one-tenth of a percentage point from a revised 9.1 percent in February. The jobless rate was 9.8 percent in March a year ago.

“Georgia’s unemployment rate continues to trend downward,” Commissioner Butler said, “and it’s important to recognize that it’s done so as the number of people in the labor force steadily increased. This indicates a growing optimism among unemployed workers that they will be able to land a job. In fact, Georgia employers have created 35,600 jobs in the past year.

The number of jobs in Georgia from February to March increased 13,900 to 3,894,900. The employment sectors showing growth since March of 2011 were: professional and business services, 28,900; trade and transportation, 10,700; education and health services, 7,900; manufacturing, 5,900; and leisure and hospitality, 1,200.

“I’m also encouraged that the number of new lay-offs continues to decline, reaching the lowest level since March four years ago,” Commissioner Butler continued.

The number of first-time claims for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits declined to 42,676, down 3,650, or 7.9 percent, from 46,326 in February. Most of the decrease came in manufacturing, trade, construction, and administrative and support services. Initial claims were also down by 7,655, or 15.2 percent, from 50,331 in March of last year. 

The number of long-term unemployed workers decreased 2,500, or 1.0 percent, to 239,200 from February to March. This is the fewest number of long-term unemployed since 236,600 in September 2010.  The long-term unemployed make up 56 percent of all jobless workers in Georgia.

 

April 18--  The Montgomery County school system is considering whether it will appeal a decision by the state school board which revoked the dismissal of three school teachers.

Lisa Parker, a Middle School science teacher; Allie Rhodes, a Middle School social studies teacher; and second grade teacher Marilyn Haymans were terminated last year as part of a reduction in force in the school system.

The decision was upheld by a tribunal of third-party educators after a hearing last October.  

The trio appealed to the state school board which overruled the tribunal and said the school system did not use objective criteria in choosing whom would be released as a result of the reduction in force.  The state board described the decision as "arbitrary and capricious."

Montgomery County School Superintendent Randy Rodgers says if the school board decides to appeal the state board's ruling it would be filed in Montgomery County Superior Court.

Meanwhile, the teachers' attorney, Macky Bryant of Vidalia, has told the local newspaper the teachers are entitled to full back pay until a final decision in the case is rendered. 

April 18--  A father and son from Vidalia are under arrest for allegedly stealing from Rogers State Prison in Tattnall County.

District Attorney Hayward Altman says authorities searched a residence at 5249 Highway 297 North in Vidalia Tuesday night and Wednesday morning and recovered tools and other items allegedly stolen from the prison over a period of at least a year.

{mosimage} {mosimage}

The DA says 55-year-old Stevie Coleman (left) and 30-year-old Brandon Coleman are both employees at the prison.  They are being charged with theft by receiving.  The father was booked at the Toombs County Detention Center in Lyons while the son was taken to the Tattnall County jail.

A Department of Corrections spokesperson says they have been suspended without pay pending an internal investigation.

April 18--  Here's an appeal to adopt from the Sweet Onion Animal Protection Society.

"Shepp is a male Rottweiler currently at the Mt. Vernon Animal Shelter.  Shepp is approximately 7 years of age.  Shepp is a friendly boy and he adores everyone.  Shepp seems eager to please and eager to learn.  He demonstrates his loyalty to the shelter staff and volunteers daily.  He enjoys attention, so he is always up for petting and loving.  He gets along well with the other dogs at the shelter.  We have never witnessed any type of aggression from him. 

{mosimage}The vet who examined Shepp was very pleased with his personality and gentle disposition.  The vet made a point to call me to let me know just how well-behaved and loving he was during his stay at the clinic. Shepp is an amazing guy & he will make a great companion for the perfect family.

To learn more about Shepp, email here This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

April 17--  The mayor of Uvalda says he welcomes an audit of the city's financial records.

Mayor Paul Bridges told Tuesday night's meeting of the city council he doesn't think there will be anything for the GBI to investigate once the audit is done.

"I'm glad the GBI is looking into it because I want a thorough investigation and I want anything to be uncovered that might be there, but I don't think they are going to find one penny missing," Mayor Bridges said.

Uvalda Mayor Pro Tem Benny Sammons told the council all of the city's records will be audited including police department and water department receipts.  One citizen in attendance said she had heard as much at $19,000 might be missing, but Mayor Bridges disagreed.  

The GBI says it is awaiting audit results before taking any action on allegations of financial problems, however, it does have an open drug-related investigation instigated by drugs allegedly being found in the truck of longtime city maintenance employee Dexter Cason.

The council had withheld a week's pay from Cason in February in an incident unrelated to the drug investigation, however, it reversed that decision Tuesday night and approved the payment. At the same time, the council voted to fire maintenance worker Dallas Adams who has worked for the city since January.  No reason was given for the termination.

The council also agreed to move forward with a $57,100 contract with McLendon Construction to upgrade a city sewage treatment pump station and it approved a new policy prohibiting the use of city equipment and labor on private property.

 

April 17--  The Governor's press office issued the following today.

"Gov. Deal today signed a bill that will update the state’s Open Records Act, legislation designed to incorporate court rulings, promote Georgia’s economic competitiveness, provide clarity on the responsibilities of state and local governments and increase transparency for residents of the state.

“This bill will help bolster the state’s ability to bring jobs to Georgia while simultaneously aiding the fundamental rights of the people to inspect the records of their government,” Deal said. “Attorney General Sam Olens, Rep. Jay Powell (R-Camilla) and Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) worked diligently over many months to enact needed changes, and we have a superior law now as a result.”

Many key stakeholders worked closely on HB 397, including the Georgia Press Association, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the First Amendment Foundation, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, the Georgia Municipal Association and many others.

“This legislation toughens enforcement of our Open Records law by substantially increasing penalties for noncompliance, allows for civil as well as criminal procedures and requires that all votes take place in a public forum,” Deal said. “We have crafted a document that makes it easier for Georgians to keep track of their government’s activities and to know their rights, and it clarifies the responsibilities of public officials.”

Reforming the Open Records Act will help ensure economic development efforts made by state and business officials. These provisions regarding open records include exemptions for trade secrets along with records that would disrupt the receipt of federal funds. An important element to this bill includes the exemption of ongoing economic development project records maintained by the Department of Economic Development until a binding commitment is obtained. 

“I worked closely with publishers from the Georgia Press Association, editors and others on the economic development portion of the bill. Together, we crafted compromise language that changes Open Records rules as it relates to economic development projects,” Deal said. “Subjecting our negotiations to the Open Records law put us at a competitive disadvantage. This change will help us bring jobs to Georgia, and we struck the right balance in this compromise.”

HB 397 will keep the state’s sensitive information regarding economic activities confidential while ensuring that citizens’ personal information is protected, respecting a right to privacy. No official business, formulation of new public policy or public matter will take place during these meetings, protecting citizen input and media coverage of the matters of the state.

 

April 17-- Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA-09) released the following statement today on tax day, urging Congress to pass the Fair Tax.  H.R. 25, or the Fair Tax Act, would replace the complicated U.S. tax code with a simpler, streamlined tax system by shifting the federal government’s taxation system from income-based to consumption-based revenue collection.

“Today, as millions of Americans are writing yet another check to Uncle Sam, we are reminded of how little of our own money we’re actually able to keep and reinvest into the American economy.  Now, more than ever, America needs to implement a more efficient and fairer tax system in order to increase economic freedom and spur economic growth.  It’s time to pass the Fair Tax.”

“The current U.S. tax code is unfair, costly, and unreasonably confusing.  It also hampers financial opportunity, allows for massive loopholes, and encourages politicians and lobbyists to pick winners and losers.  Bottom line:  It’s unfair to the American people.  The Fair Tax would not only level the playing field for all Americans, it would also increase our competitiveness in the global marketplace, helping to boost the economy and attract jobs and businesses to the United States.  President Obama repeatedly says every American should pay their ‘fair share’ in federal taxes.  There is no simpler solution to solving this issue than the Fair Tax.”
               

Background:
Rep. Graves is an original co-sponsor of the Fair Tax Act.  Introduced by Representative Rob Woodall (R-GA-07) on January 5, 2011, H.R. 25 repeals the income tax, employment tax, and the estate tax.  These taxes would be replaced by a simple, national sales tax.  Every person in the United States would be subject to the same tax rate with no exceptions or exclusions.

The Fair Tax will allow Americans to keep 100 percent of their paychecks, make American products more competitive, protect and ensure funding of Social Security and Medicare, empower low-income taxpayers, and put choice and control back in the hands of all Americans.

April 16--  The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating allegations of criminal activity by unnamed city officials in Uvalda.

Special Agent in Charge Todd Lowery says his office is leading an investigation involving drugs in cooperation with the Uvalda Police Department, the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office and the Oconee Circuit District Attorney.  Uvalda Mayor Paul Bridges says he's been told not to comment on the allegations by investigators.

In another case, Lowery says the city council has asked the GBI to investigate reports of missing money.  The agent says he's asked the council to conduct an audit and if it turns up any irregularities, the GBI will investigate further.  The council has scheduled an audit Wednesday and Thursday by Christian, Kelly and Thigpen Certified Public Accountants of Dublin. 

April 16-- The Southern Company issued the following media release today.

"David Vineyard has been named plant manager at the Edwin I. Hatch Nuclear Plant near Baxley, Ga.

{mosimage}Vineyard joined Southern Company in 1985 at Plant Vogtle after serving eight years in the U.S. Navy submarine force. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in computer science and he has maintained a senior reactor operator’s license at Vogtle for 23 years. Most recently, Vineyard served as the Fleet Operations manager at Southern Nuclear headquarters in Birmingham, Ala. with governance and oversight authority for all nuclear plant operations.

“We welcome David and his skills and expertise to Hatch as we continue to focus on generating safe, reliable and efficient electricity for our customers throughout the Southern Company territory,” says Dennis Madison, Hatch site vice president. “Our commitment to our customers and this community is unwavering and stronger than ever.”

Vineyard and his wife Beverly, an occupational therapist in Augusta, have twin sons, Andrew and Matthew; both are employed with Southern Nuclear at Plant Vogtle.

“I am proud to join Hatch’s management team to continue providing strong leadership to this group of dedicated professionals,” says Vineyard. “Their devotion to serving their neighbors throughout the surrounding communities is outstanding.”

The Edwin I. Hatch Nuclear Plant sits on 2,224 acres on the southern bank of the Altamaha River in Appling County, Ga. near Baxley. The two boiling water reactors (BWRs) at Hatch have a total generating capacity of 1,848 megawatts. Unit one began commercial operation in 1975 and is currently licensed through 2034. Unit two began commercial operation in 1979 and is currently licensed through 2038. As Appling County’s largest employer, Plant Hatch employs on average 850 people. The trained, skilled staff is on-site 24 hours each day, every day of the year.

April 16--  An Augusta real estate lawyer is the leading fundraiser among Republicans who are running for congress in the 12th Congressional District.

According to the Federal Elections Commission, Wright McLeod of Augusta has raised $284,146 so far in his bid for the Republican nomination. Less than $20,000 behind McLeod is construction company owner Rick Allen of Evans who reports contributions totaling $268,162.  State Representative Lee Anderson of Grovetown is third with $210,522.  Candidate Maria Sheffield of Dublin reports no campaign contributions.

Meanwhile, incumbent Democrat Congressman John Barrow has more campaign money than all four of his potential challengers combined.  Barrow is running for his fifth term and has amassed $1.4 million, much of it from outside the 12th Congressional District.

All of the Republican candidates were in Vidalia over the weekend for the district Republican convention in a session at Southeastern Tech which lasted over five hours.

McLeod says he's visited every county in the district since announcing his candidacy last November and reports he's hearing the same thing from the people he's met.

"We all know that the economy is on very rocky ground.  Maybe there's been a little bit of light recently, but certainly nothing of the magnitude that can even begin to rein in spending and bring the deficit under control.  Secondly, the lack of faith in our national government.  There's absolutely no trust in our leaders in Washington, D.C.," McLeod says.

 

April 16-- The Office of the Governor issued the following news release today.

"Gov. Nathan Deal today signed into law legislation that requires drug testing for welfare benefits and cracks down on the spreading problem of metal theft.

Enacting a law to safeguard the public purse, Deal signed legislation that requires applicants to pass a drug test in order to qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. Florida passed similar legislation back in 2010 decreasing their welfare applicant pool by 48 percent and saving their state $1.8 million.

“This program is intended as a safety net, and this requirement guarantees that the benefits are used for their intended purposes—to care for children and assist with job preparation,” Deal said.

HB 861 provides that each applicant failing the drug test will become ineligible to receive benefits for a certain time period, based on the number of previous test failures. Children of parents who fail a drug test can still receive benefits as long as the parent designates an appropriate payee to receive the benefits on the children’s behalf.

Deal also signed legislation cracking down on metal theft. With a dramatic increase in the price of metals, theft of copper and other recyclable metals has become a serious issue throughout the state. This new law will combat this rising tide of criminal activity by enforcing strict regulations on businesses that buy recycled metal. HB 872 requires metal sellers to show a valid ID as well as a work order or receipt to prove the metal is not stolen before it is accepted by a secondary metal recycler. Also, cash payments to metal sellers are no longer permitted. Payments must now be made through check, voucher or electronic fund transfer.

In an effort to further aid Georgia’s youth, Deal signed legislation providing diabetes care in schools at no extra cost to the state. This new bill serves two primary purposes: to allow capable students to self-manage their diabetes with the permission of their physicians and parents and to train school personnel to assist children in managing their diabetes.

Diabetes is generally self-managed; HB 879 gives guardians and physicians the option to sign a diabetes medical management plan allowing students to perform daily monitoring activities in school. However, if situations requiring assistance do arise, this legislation requires schools with a diabetic enrolled to have at least two school employees trained under the Georgia Association of School Nurses diabetes care guidelines. The Georgia chapter of the American Diabetes Association has offered to provide training to school personnel free of charge."

 

April 16--  The Toombs County school board is launching its search for a school superintendent to succeed Dr. Kendall Brantley who is retiring.

Bill Sampson with the Georgia School Boards Association is helping the board identify candidates for the job.

"We have a lot of interest and I expect we'll have between 30 and 40 applicants for this position," he said.

The GSBA will distribute brochures on the job to some 1,200 contacts in May following approval of the brochure by the school board.

Citizens can provide input to the school board on the type of superintendent they would like to see hired.

"Public participation in this is important.  We want it to be transparent and want the people in Toombs County to know every step of the way what's happening," Sampson notes.

You can participate in the community survey by clicking on the link below.

http://www.zoomerang.com/Survey/WEB22FAE4YUDQR

The school board has called a meeting at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, May 3rd to review the recruiting brochure.

Ultimately it will decide on the top three applicants whose names will be announced at least fourteen days before a hiring decision is made.

Sampson believes the process can be completed before school starts in August, however, School Board Chairman Daniel Caraway emphasizes it's more important to do it right than to do it fast.

April 13-- Area State Legislators announced today that agreement has been reached between King Finishing Company and the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) that will provide testing of the waters of the Ogeechee River by a third party.

This testing, independent of regular testing by the company and by EPD, had been sought in the wake of a large fish kill in the Ogeechee in May of 2011.

The Legislators, including Sens. Jack Hill, Buddy Carter and Jesse Stone and Reps. Jon Burns, Ann Purcell, Jan Tankersley and Ron Stephens, had written EPD and asked for the testing to be conducted by a third party to restore the public's confidence in the process.

The Legislators released a letter from Jud Turner, EPD Director, to Lee A. DeHihns, attorney for King Finishing, stating that EPD was accepting the conceptual proposal to include third party monitoring as part of the Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP).

The letter from EPD stated that the formalized proposal would be included in the Consent Order with King Finishing including the SEP.

Sen. Jack Hill (R-Reidsville) stated, "Area legislators are grateful to Jud Turner, Director of EPD and to King Finishing for agreeing to this request and ensuring the public's confidence is restored.  When we all work together, the public's interests are advanced."

 

April 13--  Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville reports on state revenue and recent legislative action.

MARCH STATE REVENUES SHOW 5% GROWTH

State revenues grew some 5% for the month of March over 2011 and with 3/4ths of the fiscal year complete, Georgia is on target to meet revised revenue projections.   Revenues totaled $1.16 billion for the month producing $54.9 million in increased tax revenues.

 

Individual Income Taxes were up an encouraging 8.8% and net Sales Taxes were up 3.7% for the month.  Motor Fuel taxes were up a combined 21.7% or 9.0% in excise taxes by the gallon and 33.4% in sales tax collections for a total increase of $16.1 million for the month.

 

Corporate Income taxes continued downward at -4.7%.  Tobacco tax collections were up 15.8% and alcoholic beverages up 12.3% for the month.

 

AT THE THREE QUARTERS MARK, REVENUES UP 4.7%

Total revenues Year to Date are $11.7 billion or an increase of $524.9 million for the first nine months.  Individual Income Taxes are up $394 million or 7.1% and net Sales Taxes are up 5.4% or $203.1 million YTD.

 

Motor Fuel Taxes are up 9.3% or $64.0 million for roads and bridges for the fiscal year so far with Excise Taxes down 3.8% and Sales Taxes up 21.6%.

 

After nine months, Corporate Income Taxes show a -25.9% drop or some $125.7 million less in revenues.  Corrected tobacco and alcoholic beverages numbers show increases of 3.9% and 2.7% respectively.

 

So the YTD growth in revenues shows a 4.7% increase of enough to meet the budget projections with three months to go.

 

INSIDE THE NUMBERS SHOW POSITIVE TRENDS

Looking at trends in Individual Income Taxes show that refunds are down by 129 thousand and amounts of refunds are down over $155 thousand.  Tax Payments are up in number 39 thousand and in amount $255 thousand.

 

In Sales Tax categories, only one category showed a decrease-Utilities at -1.85%.  All others were positive with leaders being construction with an 18.3% increase, food at 7.2% and retail trade with 6.7%.

 

The Corporate Tax totals were negatively affected by refunds increasing by $113 million or 73% while payments were down some $24 million.

 

So, with nine months down and three to go, state revenues are meeting the latest targets.

 

LEGISLATION PASSED BY CATEGORY/COMMITTEE

 

AGRICULTURE AND CONSUMER AFFAIRS

 

SB 367- Authorizes the Commissioner of Agriculture to require and collect a surety bond from anyone who owes the state fines or penalties

 

HB 832 - Gives the Commissioner the ability to negotiate Vidalia Onion trademark royalties' fees and removes a set amount. 

 

SB 114 - Allows fruit growers to obtain a manufacturer's or distiller's license for the production of distilled spirits.

 

HB 685 - Redefines a "vicious" dog and provides liability for injuries or damage caused by them.

 

Next Week - Legislation that came through the Appropriations Committee  

 

If you would like additional information regarding a specific piece of legislation, you may access the Georgia General Assembly website at http://www.legis.ga.gov.

 

April 13--  Winning writers from the Toombs County school system were named at Thursday night's meeting of the county school board.  Students from each grade competed in the system's annual Young Georgia Author's Writing Competition and will now move on to compete with other schools in the area.

{mosimage} 

Front Row (L to R): Sami Kay (K), Matthew Cross (1), Aspen Johnson(2), Jazmin Zea (3), Rayni Swain (4), Shaunessy Corbin (5)

Back Row (L to R): Diana Johnson (6), Karlye Claxton (7), Alvia Johnson (9), Demi Stoddard (10), Berry Aldridge (12)

Not Pictured: Hannah Roberts (8) and Brittany Garcia (11)

 

April 13--  Science students from Vidalia High School and J.R. Trippe Middle school excelled this year at regional and state science fairs.  The students explained their projects at the April meeting of the Vidalia school board and were lauded by board members for their creativity and ability to think "outside the box" as one member said.

Science teacher Jeff Ikner guided the students with their projects and provides a narrative on their accomplishments.

{mosimage}At the high school, Caroline Smith and Brandon Kight placed first overall at the GaTech Savannah Science and Engineering Fair.  Their project title was P.A.K.: Portable Artificial Kidney, an Amelioration of Kidney Dialysis.  They placed first in their specific area; biomedical engineering and won an award from the Yale Engineering Group.  They were flagged at the admissions office for acceptance at Yale, GaTech, and UGA.  They also placed in the top 20 at the State Science Fair and will advance to the International Science Fair held in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania May 10th

{mosimage}Maja Mitchell and Nick Kirk placed second at Region in Engineering and advanced to State.  They designed and built a remote control vehicle powered by solar panels.  A series of capacitors stored the charge and the charge was released gradually and controlled by resistors.  Maja's partner could not attend the board meeting and she was without her exhibit but briefed the board on its potential.

{mosimage}At the Middle School Level, Jarred Fountain, an 8th grade student, placed third in the area of Mathematics for determining the probability of winning the Cracker Barrel Peg Board Solitaire Game. 

{mosimage}Bennett Moore, a seventh grade student, placed second in Engineering for designing a new steering mechanism for cars.  One steering mechanism improved on the current steering design by improving the angle by 30%.  This gives the vehicle a greater turn radius.  The second design gave each wheel independent steering by having a motherboard control a motor attached to each wheel.  This allowed for 360 degree rotation for each wheel. 

{mosimage}Zeel Mehta, a seventh grade student, placed first at Region in Microbiology and advanced to State.  She placed 3rd at State in Microbiology.  Zeel produced and isolated ethanol, a bio-fuel,  from common fruit juices. 

All seven students have already started working on their research projects for next year.  Their success has sparked an interest in the Science Fair amongst other students and more have signed up to compete. 

 

 

April 12-- SMOKE FROM FLORIDA FIRES COULD CAUSES VISIBILTY PROBLEMS IN SOUTH GEORGIA COUNTIES

WHEN: Beginning Thursday evening, April 12 and continuing through Monday morning, April 16.

WHERE: Roadways in Lowndes and surrounding counties.

WHAT:  The Georgia DOT anticipates smoke that could cause low to no visibility due to a large wildfire near the Baker-Columbia County line in north Florida.

Smoke is predicted to spread across the Florida Big Bend and South Georgia area today and tonight and likely persist across portions of this area through the weekend.

Motorists traveling in Lowndes and surrounding counties in South Georgia could be affected by this smoke. Motorists should exercise extreme caution at all times, particularly in smoke events and early mornings where smoke and fog may mix.

 

 

 

 

 

###

April 12--  This story demonstrates why it's important for states to have stringent voter identification laws.  Click below.

Illegal Alien Mass Voter Fraud Discovered in Florida
A Florida TV station uncovers massive voter fraud by illegals.  

April 11--  The Toombs County Commission is seeking bids for two county projects and an ambulance.

At its meeting Tuesday, the Commission rejected previous bids to resurface Lyons-Center Road from Highway 15 to the Vidalia-Cedar Crossing Road and voted to advertise for new bids.

It also is seeking bids for a new county convenience center planned for the New Normantown Road.

The county has received a state grant of $72,254 to buy a new ambulance and will put the purchase out for bids.

Commissioners also promised to review the county's mobile home ordinance after Chad Zorn objected to a requirement that a 4 X 6 foot porch must be built in front of both doors of a used mobile home he is occupying temporarily.  Zorn says the construction will cost him more than the $500 deposit he had to put down to comply with county regulations.  "Too much government," he told the commissioners.

April 11--  Parents of students at J.D. Dickerson Primary School in Vidalia are being advised that asbestos is being removed from the school as part of a renovation project.

Principal Carol Welch sent letters noting that none of the work is being done with students on campus.  Asbestos abatement teams worked at the school during spring break in an area walled off from classrooms.  The next phases will occur this weekend and next with air quality monitored and the material removed from the campus.

Meanwhile, the school board was informed at its meeting Tuesday night that the construction at Dickerson and J.R.Trippe Middle School should be completed by January.  McDonald Construction of Vidalia is doing the $5.6 million project.

April 11-- Three Southeastern Tech students were named Hinman Scholars at a ceremony in Atlanta at the Georgia World Congress Center.

{mosimage} 

(L-R) Ashlee Erin Dixon of Blackshear, Brandy Downie of Vidalia, and Rachel Green Lawson of Dublin received the awards after being reviewed by a selection committee composed of STC Dental Hygiene faculty.

“I am so proud of these outstanding students,” said Jennifer Gramiak, director of Southeastern Tech’s Dental Hygiene program. “For the past two years, they have excelled in the program and are very deserving of this recognition.”

The $750 scholarships were presented as part of the 2012 Thomas P. Hinman Dental Meeting, billed as “the South's premier dental convention.” The Hinman Dental Society has been awarding scholarships since 1989 and the 2012 meeting is its 100th.

 


 


 

April 11--  The Montgomery County Commission has approved an inter-governmental agreement to build a new fire station in Tarrytown.

County manager David Curry says the Tarrytown city council must now approve the agreement.  The county plans to spend up to $99,000 in special purpose local option sales tax revenue to build the station and will lease it to the city of Tarrytown.  The Tarrytown Volunteer Fire Department will assist in construction of the building and use it to house its fire trucks.

At its monthly meeting Monday the Commission reappointed George Raiford to another four-year term on the Board of Assessors.  Earlier the board met with the assessors who want to relocate from their current office on the square in Mount Vernon.  The commission took the request under advisement.

April 10--  The Vidalia Police Department has been recertified for the second time by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police.  It's one of only 98 in the state to meet the standards and brings with it certain benefits, according to Frank Rotondo of the Association.

 "One of them is that employee morale goes up, public confidence is another real benefit of the program and having solid policy in place means that the city's liability insurance rates normally go down," he said.

{mosimage}Police Chief Frank Waits (accepting the recertificaton with Mayor Ronnie Dixon from Rotondo) says his department complys with 118 different law enforcement standards to keep the award.

"I think the people of Vidalia can be very proud of their department. There's nothing hidden in this department.  You can come in at anytime and see what we're doing and how we're doing it as long as it's not a domestic violence case or a case under investigation," Chief Waits said.

{mosimage}
The presentation of the recertification award was made at Monday night's meeting of the Vidalia city council.  Officer Lawanda Beasley was given special recognition for her work in documenting the department's certification program. 

{mosimage} 

At the same time, Robbie Akins from ESG, the city's public works contractor, presented the city with a ground water safety award from the Georgia Water Works Association. (L-R Mayor Pro Tem Raymond Turner, ESG's Jeff West, Mayor Dixon, Akins and city manager Bill Torrance)

The council granted a beer and wine license to the Pal Theater in downtown Vidalia, forgave a $3,000 rent bill to the United Way, granted a street name request for the road off Highway 292 leadng to a new senior citizens complex and okayed equipment purchases for the fire and water departments.

April 10-- Lyons Upper Elementary gifted students (A.C.E.) visited Atlanta on their field trip this year.  The students had a guided tour of the State Capitol building, the Georgia Aquarium, World of Coca Cola and the Atlanta Cyclorama.  The students also visited Centennial Park, Martin Luther King, Jr. museum and enjoyed a meal and entertainment at Medieval Times.

{mosimage} 

Pictured in Centennial Park (left to right)

First row:  Olga Reyes, Skyler Newsome, Maggie Wright, Mary Lopez, Eden Hodges

Middle row:  Sienna Strickland, Mikenna Salem, Chloe Dupree, Alana Dixon, A.P. Alexander, Tucker Moxley, Bryce Braddy

Back row:  Edgar Hernandez, Cole Moxley, Logan Harvey, Breannah Hutcheson, Andrew Heck and Carson Burton

April 10--  The Georgia Department of Education today released high school graduation rates for high schools using a new cohort system designed to make it easier for states to uniformly compare graduation rates.

The report compares the number of freshmen who entered the 9th grade for the first time in 2007-08 to the number who graduated four years later in 2010-11.  In Georgia, just over two-thirds (67.4%) graduated.

In our area, Wheeler County High School had the highest cohort graduation rate and Tattnall County High School had the lowest.  Only Tattnall and Appling County High School had graduation rates lower than the state average.

Area High School Cohort Graduation Rates

Area Rank

High School

Cohort Grad Rate

 1

Wheeler

87.50%

 2

Treutlen

79.22%

3

Swainsboro

78.97%

4

Jeff Davis

76.92%

5

Vidalia

76.77%

6

Metter

76.64%

7

Montgomery

72.50%

8

ECI

71.08%

9

Toombs

69.91%

10

Appling

64.66

11

Tattnall

60.22%

 

State Average

67.40%

 

 

March 9--  The positive trend continues in state revenue collections.

Georgia’s net tax collections for March 2012 totaled $1.16 billion, an increase of $55 million or 5 percent compared to March 2011. At the close of the third quarter, net revenue collections totaled $11.7 billion for an increase of $525 million or 4.7 percent compared to the same period last year.

“Though there is still a lot of room for improvement,” Deal said, “this upward economic growth pattern alongside several other solid economic indicators proves we are moving in the right direction.”

The following changes within the various tax categories contributed to the net revenue increase in March:
 
Individual Income Tax: Individual Income Tax collections for March 2012 totaled $422 million, up from $388 million in March 2011, for an increase of $34 million or 8.8 percent.

The following notable components within Individual Income Tax account for the increase:
•     Individual Income Tax Return payments increased $13.5 million or 46.4 percent

•     Individual Income Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) were down $(30.5) million or -6.1 percent
•     Individual Withholding payments were up $10.5 million or 13.0 percent
•     Estimated Tax and Assessment payments were down a combined $(20.5) million

Sales and Use Tax: Net Sales and Use Tax collections for March 2012 totaled $428 million, up from $413 million in March 2011, for an increase of $15 million or 3.7 percent. Gross Sales Tax collections were up $19 million over last year and the Sales Tax Distribution to local governments totaled $368 million in March, which was an increase of $1.7 million compared to FY2011.

Corporate Income Tax: Corporate Income Tax collections for March 2012 declined $(8) million, down from $175.5 million in March 2011 to $167.5 million this year. 

The following notable components within Corporate Income Tax make up the decrease:
•      Corporate Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) were up $12.5 million or 102.5 percent

•      Corporate Income Tax Return payments increased $61 million or 143 percent

•      Corporate Estimated Tax and S-Corp Tax payments were down a combined $(56.5) million

 

April 9-- Meadows Regional Medical Center has once again earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for accreditation by demonstrating compliance with The Joint Commission’s national standards for health care quality and safety in hospitals. The accreditation award recognizes the
dedication to continuous compliance with The Joint Commission’s state-of-the-art standards.

Meadows underwent a rigorous unannounced on-site formal survey in November, 2011. A team of Joint Commission expert surveyors evaluated the facility for compliance with standards of care specific to the
needs of patients, including infection prevention and control, leadership and medication management.

"With Joint Commission accreditation, we are making a significant investment in quality on a day-to-day basis from the top down. Joint Commission accreditation provides us a framework to take our
organization to the next level and helps create a culture of excellence,” says Alan Kent, Meadows President & CEO. “Through continuing accreditation we are taking a major steps toward maintaining excellence and continually improving the care we provide.”

The Joint Commission’s hospital standards address important functions relating to the care of patients and the management of hospitals. The standards are developed in consultation with health care experts,
providers, measurement experts and patients.

Joint Commission returned to the Meadows campus in February to visit the laboratory and also gaveaccreditation to laboratory services at Meadows. “These standards highlight the essential nature of laboratory services on the actual care and service delivery processes that contribute to and support the
overall health care delivery system,” says Jerry Pruitt, Director of Meadows Laboratory Services.

April 9--  The State Extended Benefit (SEB) program for long-term unemployed Georgians will end on April 21. The SEB is a federally funded extended unemployment insurance program that has been available in some states, including Georgia.

Federal and state laws mandate that states in which SEB is provided have three-month average unemployment rates that remain 110 percent higher than the corresponding months three years prior. Georgia’s three-month average unemployment rate is 9.24 percent, compared to 8.5 percent for the corresponding period three years ago. In order to meet the threshold for SEB, Georgia’s three-month average rate must be 9.35 percent. The Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) is notifying the 15,000 people receiving SEB that the program is ending.

SEB is not part of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program. The EUC program remains in effect. SEB has provided up to a maximum of 20 additional weeks of extended benefits to jobless Georgians who exhausted the four tiers of EUC, providing a maximum of 99 weeks of benefits to those eligible. EUC will still be available for those exhausting regular state unemployment insurance benefits.

Those recipients currently exhausting the fourth tier of EUC may be eligible for SEB through the week ending April 21.

April 9--  The chairman of the Treutlen County Commission died of heart failure early last Thursday morning at his home in Soperton.

Seventy-three-year old Joe C. Webb was first elected to the county commission in 1995 and became chairman in 2009.

His funeral is Wednesday morning at eleven o'clock at the First Baptist Church of Soperton.

April 6--  Twelfth District Congressman John Barrow has moved, again.

The Congressman moved from Savannah to Augusta in March after Georgia's new redistricting map took Savannah out of the 12th District.

We asked the Congressman, who is seeking re-election, why he's moving since a congressman doesn't have to live in the district he represents.

{mosimage}“It's my policy to live in the district I represent,” said Barrow (GA-12). “Partisan insiders have tried to rig my elections before, but the folks I represent understand that I have an independent record.  I’ll continue to vote for what's in the best interests of the 12th District – like opposing wasteful spending and supporting job growth.”

This is Congressman Barrow's second move.  In his initial campaign in 2004, he ran from his hometown of Athens which was removed from the District  before his re-election campaign.  He moved to Savannah in 2006 to remain in the district.

Congressman Barrow is seeking his fifth term in office and will face one of four Republicans who are running in this summer's primary election.  Three from the Augusta area are businessman Rick Allen, farmer and State Representative Lee Anderson and retired Navy officer and lawyer Wright McLeod plus attorney Marie Sheffield who is moving from metro Atlanta to Dublin in order to live in the district.

 

April 6--  State Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville reports on the just-ended session of the Georgia legislature.

LEGISLATION PASSED IN 2012 COVERED A WIDE RANGE OF ISSUES

This week we will begin a review of legislation passed in the 2012 Session of the General Assembly and include an effective date for the legislation to take effect.  This first week, major issues will be covered with following weeks covering issues by category.

 

A QUICK REVIEW OF MAJOR LEGISLATION

HB 347-Unemployment Insurance-Actions taken to begin paying back the $700 million plus owed to the Federal Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.  Increases the taxable wage base for employers from $8,500 to $9,500 for unemployment insurance.  Reduces the maximum number of weeks a claimant may receive benefits from 26 weeks and uses a sliding scale based on the prevailing state Unemployment Rate to determine from 14 to 20 weeks of benefits.  The present unemployment rate of over 9% would mean claimants would receive 20 weeks of benefits.  HB347 also suspends the Statewide Reserve Ratio Surcharge under certain conditions.  The bill takes effect July 1, 2012.

 

HB 397-Open Meetings Act Revision in local government-Product of the Attorney General working with the Legislature-Clarifies what a "meeting" is and is not.  Final votes must be taken in open session.  Defines "executive session" and lists what may be voted upon in those sessions.  Limits the use of telephone meetings and allows teleconferencing only during emergencies.  No more than twice a year, members of local government can teleconference if restricted by health reasons.

 

Increases fines for violations of open meetings provisions to $1,000 for the first violation and $2,500 for each subsequent per year.  Data and data fields are now considered "records."  Charges for copies under "open records" requests are reduced from .25 per page to .10.   Requests for records may be oral or written but only written requests are subject to criminal and civil enforcement proceedings.  Exemptions from disclosure are clarified and attorney-client privilege work definition is broadened but does not include relating to an investigation conducted by an attorney on behalf of an agency.  New exemptions include economic development documents that are exempt only until a binding agreement is reached.  Effective July 1, 2012.

 

HB 1176-Criminal Justice Reform-Legislation resulting from the report of the Special Joint Committee on Georgia Criminal Justice Reform-Revises drug and mental health court provisions, legal treatment of some criminal offenses, expands mandatory reporting of child abuse, addresses expungement and procedures of the Dept. of Corrections and Pardons and Paroles.

 

Under Mental Health, HB 1176 requires a risk and needs assessment focused on moderate and high risk offenders. Would institute standards and review process for mental health courts.

The bill would alter degrees and sentencing of some crimes like burglary, theft, shoplifting and forgery.  Drug offenses would be governed by a weight-based system which would determine the range of punishment.  Following the Penn State case, the statute of limitations is lifted on some sex crimes committed on children younger than 16.   Mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse is expanded to include nurse's aides, pregnancy resource centers and reproductive health care facility personnel including volunteers.

 

Rewrites expungement code effective January 1, 2013, and allows more access to an individual's criminal history.  First offenders can also apply for expungement.  Broadens the use of electronic monitoring as a condition of probation or for completion of a substance abuse or mental health treatment.  Limits probation detention center time to 180 days.  Effective date July 1, 2012.  Schedule I & II Substances, July 1, 2013.  Schedules III, IV, July 1, 2014.

 

HB 872-Regulation of Scrap Metal Recycling-this is the third attempt by the legislature to regulate this industry with previous bills passing in 1997 and 2011.  HB 872 includes new requirements for digital photographs or video of both the metal and seller.  Requires a signed affidavit by the seller that he or she is the rightful owner of the property being sold or is entitled to sell it.  A new database will be created and all information from each sale will go into that database.

 

Vehicles being sold must be accompanied by a title or by a Department of Revenue form and sent to DOR within 72 hours of receipt.

 

Limits cash payments for regulated metals.  Payment by check or electronic transfer allowed for businesses but only vouchers for individuals which will be mailed 14 days later.  Limits business hours to 7 am to 7 pm. Lists conditions of seizure and forfeiture. 

Permits will be issued by local sheriffs and permit information stored in a database created by the GBI.  Regular sellers of scrap metal must be permitted in the county of residence.  The first violation of any requirement is a misdemeanor, second, high and aggravated misdemeanor and the third, a felony with a 1-10 year sentence.

 

If the title is not available for a vehicle, none is required if the value is less than $850 and over 12 years old but a statement is required with extensive information and the information must be sent to Dept. of Motor Vehicles within 72 hours.  Violation of these requirements is a felony with a possible $5000 fine and 3 years in jail.

 

Secondary metals recyclers, licensed used car parts dealers and scrap metal processors will be required to provide a list of daily vehicle purchases for scrap or parts with extensive information.  Certification that the vehicle is lien-free must be retained for two years.  The lien requirements are different for under 12 years old vehicles and over 12 years old.  Legislation becomes effective July 1, 2012.

 

 

April 5--  The Sweet Onion Animal Protection Society (SOAPS) is saluting foster Mom Pam Foster. 

{mosimage}These nine newborn pups were found inside a bag in a dumpster March 26 and are being hand-nursed by Pam.  Here they are having "naptime" after feeding.

April 5--  Here are some headlines from local area papers...

The Baxley News-Banner reports accreditation has been restored to schools in Appling County.  The schools had been on probation since June, 2010 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

Meanwhile, in the Montgomery Monitor, it's reported a representative from the Georgia Schools Boards Association spent a couple of days meeting with focus groups in Montgomery County.  The Montgomery school system is on probation and faces a follow-up inspection by a SACS team in June.

The Tattnall Journal says the GBI is investigating the March 31st shooting death of Roger Dasher at his home east of Glennville.  The paper says he was shot in the abdomen with buckshot reportedly fired through his front door.

The Forest-Blade in Swainsboro reports a search was conducted Tuesday on a recycling center in Garden City.  District Attorney Hayward Altman says authorities want to know if millions of dollars worth of metal stolen from a Swainsboro business in the last few years were received by Tops Recycling Center near Savannah.  No arrest warrants have been issued as a result of the search, according to the paper.

April 5--  Vidalia fire officials say smoke damage was heavy at the home of Wayne and Karen Brantley Wednesday afternoon.

Fire Chief Buddy Coleman thinks the fire was caused by an electrical short in a lighted china cabinet.

Toombs County Deputy Sheriff Jay Page happened to be near the house on High Street and spotted smoke.  He found a ladder in the garage and rescued a woman from a second floor window.  

Karen Brantley, who chairs the Refuge Domestic Violence Center, was treated for smoke inhalation by emergency medical personnel. 

A Look at the 2012 Legislative Session

 By Sen. Tommie Williams

April 5-- The Majority Party spent this legislative session carefully crafting legislation to focus on ideas and concepts that would benefit all Georgians. In January, we unveiled the agenda of initiatives we strived to accomplish for the 2012 session.  As the final gavel struck at midnight on March 29th, we were confident that all of these goals had been achieved through hard work and dedication.  By combining the traditional concepts of limited government and fiscal responsibility, we also introduced the tax reform package, numerous bills to protect our children and reform education; therefore as members of the Majority Party we were pleased with the accomplishments of the 2012 session. 

Limited Government

During this year’s session, the Senate worked hard to reduce the overall size and scope of state government, especially as it pertains to the overall productivity of Georgia’s state-run programs.  Currently Georgia has the lowest per capita spending of any state in the country. To further support these goals, the Senate adopted HB 456, also known as the Georgia Government Accountability Act. Similar to the Senate’s version, this legislation provides a mechanism to determine the continued need of state-run programs through the creation of the Legislative Sunset Advisory Committee. The passage of this historic legislation provides a clear solution for efficient government operations and also helps maximize every taxpayer dollar.

Pro-Business Tax Reform

One of the most important things Georgia can do to attract businesses and promote job creation is revise our tax structure into one that spurs private-sector growth and welcomes investment in our state. In the final days of the 2012 Legislative Session, the Senate passed HB 386 – a comprehensive tax reform package projected to offer Georgia businesses and taxpayers nearly $262 million in tax savings over the next three years.

In order to see continued growth and get more Georgians back to work, it was imperative to revise Georgia’s antiquated tax code by removing the tax levied on manufacturing facilities, an estimated savings of approximately $150 million per year. As a result, Georgia will become even more attractive to businesses seeking to relocate or expand their operations.

This common sense legislation also kept Georgia families in mind by reducing the burden of the marriage penalty in the state income tax, eliminating the birthday tax, and bringing back the tax holiday for school supplies. The passage of HB 386 is a tremendous victory for both Georgia’s businesses and families, and is a clear indication that Georgia is moving forward with the times. 

21st Century Education Reform

21st century education reform was one of our greatest legislative priorities this session.  Our classrooms and our communities are poised to thrive due in large part to a variety of bills passed dealing with how our children learn and how we support our valuable educators. With the passage of charter schools amendment, HR 1162, Georgians will have the opportunity to vote to approve this measure in November. HR 1162 reasserts the state’s role in public education, defines a state charter school in the State Constitution, provides that a state charter schools only be public, nonsectarian, nonreligious, and nonprofit, and regulates that the state is not allowed to lower extra funding to local school systems. HB 797 passed this week and aides HR 1162 by creating the State Charter Schools Commission as a state-level authorizing entity with the power to approve or deny petitions for state charter schools.

We also addressed the need for technological advancement in our classrooms. SB 289 requires local school systems to offer students virtual instruction program options to enable students to use online and distance learning in the nontraditional classroom and requires high school students to complete at least one of these online learning courses.

Parents will be empowered with extensive knowledge on progress made by school system due to the passage of SB 410. The bill adopts indicators of quality of learning by students, financial efficiency, and school climate for individual schools and school systems. The legislation assigns a numerical score rating for individual schools and school systems based on student achievement, achievement gap closure, and student progress.  The bill also supports the waiver that Georgia was granted from having to comply with AYP.

The Senate also took necessary steps to support our valuable educators. SB 184 prohibits local school boards from implementing a policy that allows length of teaching time to be only factor when reducing staff.

Fiscal Responsibility

Now more than ever, the Georgia General Assembly must take great strides to eliminate government waste and reduce expenditures. Government operations are funded by taxpayer dollars, and the Senate Majority Party drafted legislation in 2012 to ensure the continued financial responsibility of our state and to urge the federal government to adopt more fiscally sound policy. The Georgia legislature concluded the 2012 session by passing a $19.3 billion dollar budget, keeping in line with the state’s commitment to pass balanced budget legislation each year. Per capita state government spending is about 20 percent less than it was a decade ago.

In addition, the passage of SB 33 will assist in the legislature’s efforts to control state spending and maximize every taxpayer dollar. This zero-based budgeting bill will require the thorough re-evaluation of all line items in the budget every ten years, with state agencies being rotated so that not all are subject to review at one time.

Although the State of Georgia requires the General Assembly to pass a balanced budget that does not allow for deficit spending each year, this fiscally responsible measure is not required by the federal government. As a result, our national debt is at record numbers and continues to climb higher.

The Senate passed SR 673 to petition Congress to call a Constitutional convention for the purpose of proposing a balanced budget amendment. The resolution recommends that the total of all federal appropriations made by the Congress for any fiscal year may not exceed that total of all estimated federal revenue for that fiscal year.

In a great show of bipartisan support, the Senate passed HB 1176, a comprehensive sentencing and corrections reform bill that will save Georgia taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, improve public safety and lower recidivism rates

Protecting Our Children

The children of Georgia are our state’s greatest asset, and their innocence and future potential needs to be fiercely protected. As adults, it is our responsibility to preserve the highest quality of life for all children—even those who are yet to be born. Under current law, some individuals are not ready to report a brutal crime against them as a child until he or she is well into adulthood. Therefore, the Senate introduced and passed SB 316 to extend the statute of limitations on reporting sexual crimes until the victim’s 28th birthday, and until the victim’s 33rd birthday in cases involving childhood rape. The Senate also passed SB 355; legislation that extends the mandatory reporting requirement for child abuse beyond those directly responsible for the child’s care. Unfortunately, these bills were stalled in the House.

HB 954 caused one of the most passionate debates of the session. HB 954 will prohibit abortions when the probable gestational age of the unborn child is found to be 20 weeks or more, except when a physician has deemed a pregnancy “medically futile.” This term means the unborn child has a profound and irremediable congenital or chromosomal abnormality that would not allow the child to live after birth.

This year the General Assembly passed meaningful and valuable legislation that continues to benefit, protect, and advance the current and future citizens of Georgia.   This session provided the necessary measures to continue to make Georgia the best state possible.  I am humbled to continue to represent each of you at the State Capitol. I remain committed to supporting legislation that will further benefit each and every citizen of Georgia.  It is my honor to serve you in the State Senate each year, and I encourage you to contact me throughout the year to let me know what I can do for you.

 

April 5--  One of the four candidates seeking the Republican nomination to run against Congressman John Barrow in the 12th District says it's time for the country to get back to basics.

State Representative Lee Anderson of Columbia County spoke to Vidalia Tea Party Patriots Tuesday after visits to Montgomery and Appling counties.

"We need to get back to what government was really meant to be and that's to protect the people.  We need to get education out of the federal level and get it back to the state and local level.  We must balance the budget.  As a state representative, school board member and county commissioner, I had to balance a budget.  I'm the only candidate with the experience to go to Washington and balance the budget," Anderson said.

The new 12th Congressional District has a higher percentage of Republican voters than the old district and Anderson believes that's good news for conservatives.

"The main objective is to send Obama and John Barrow home.  People are fed up with almost 50 percent of the population not paying any taxes and the working people are totin' the whole load," he said.

Other declared Republicans in the race are retired naval officer Wright McLeod and businessman Rick Allen, both of the Augusta area, and Marie Sheffield who ran unsuccessfully for state Insurance Commissioner in 2010.

 

April 3--  If the U.S. Supreme Court throws out the entire Affordable Care Act when it rules on Obamacare, what's the alternative to consumers whose health insurance rates are raised year after year by insurance companies?

Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens thinks a state insurance exchange will help keep prices down.

{mosimage}"There are some free market solutions.  I would love to seen an exchange established in the state of Georgia.  An exchange creates a marketplace for health insurance and it tells you what policies are out there which meet your particular needs.  If your a male you don't need maternity coverage or breast reconstruction or if your a female you don't need prostate surgery.  This would help control the cost because paying for something you don't need is a waste of money," Hudgens says.

One thing that hasn't worked in Georgia is opening the market to insurance companies from other states.  Obamacare opponents have argued that allowing insurance companies to operate across state lines would provide competition to hold down rates, however, Georgia passed such a law last year and has had no takers.

"We've written the regulations and had them all posted and we've had not a single insurance company apply for bringing a policy in the state of Georgia,"Hudgens notes.

Hudgens spoke to the Vidalia Kiwanis Club Tuesday and said his office is on the lookout for insurance and loan fraud.  He wants to hear from consumers and says last year more than 50,000 complaints were received by his call center.

 

April 2--  Some school boards in low wealth areas of Georgia will have to increase property taxes by the end of the decade to qualify for state equalization funds.

House Bill 824 passed the legislature in the late hours of the just-ended legislative session.  It requires school boards to have a tax rate of at least 12 mils starting in 2015 and increase it to 14 mils by 2019.

State Representative Greg Morris of Vidalia voted against the measure which was sponsored in the Senate by Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons.

"Originally 12 mils was the minimum required to participate in equalization and this money is very important to our local schools. The revised bill raised that and I don't see how you can around raising property taxes and I'm not going to vote for anything that I believe or know will raise ad valorem taxes," Morris said.

School systems in Toombs, Truetlen and Montgomery counties currently have tax rates in the 11 to 12 mils range.  The Vidalia school system tax rate is already 15 mils and is capped at that level.

Morris is happy that the legislature passed a new law to start phasing out property taxes on vehicles even though they will be replaced by an upfront sales tax and title transfer tax at the time of purchase.

"What I like about the change is that we eliminate taxing property so you don't have to rent your vehicle from the government every year. Secondly, it's a tax you can make a decision on controlling.  If you don't want to pay a tax on your vehicle, you don't buy a new one.  You choose," he says. 

April 2--  A Vidala man is under arrest for setting fire to his house.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight reports Gerald Thomas Wingard, Jr. is charged with setting the March 10th blaze that destroyed his home at 416 Deer Run Road in Vidalia.

Earlier Wingard told authorities he was sleeping when he was awakened by the fire and called 911.  The arson charges follow an investigation by the State Fire Marshall's office and the Toombs County Sheriff's Office.

April 2-- Georgia artists were invited to submit designs for the new Golden Onion trophy, which will be presented to the First Place champion of the new Golden Onion professional cooking competition on Sunday, April 22, 2012.

{mosimage}Among the proposals submitted, the design by Melissa Harris of Rome, Ga. was selected by members of the Vidalia Onion Festival Committee. Her multi-media design features a plate, fork, knife balancing a large scale Vidalia® Onion.

Inspired to enter the contest for “the challenge of it,” Harris says that although she has experience producing sculptures this will be her first trophy. “I’m a big fan of competitive chef reality shows,” she says. “I saw designing the trophy as my chance to participate in this new Golden Onion professional cooking competition that will be part of the Vidalia Onion festival—and everyone in Georgia has heard of the Vidalia Onion festival!”
Raised in Marietta, Ga., Harris discovered her passion for art as a middle school student and continued to pursue art throughout high school. Though she most favors portrait drawings, she also enjoys painting, sculpture, pottery and photography.

{mosimage}As winner of the trophy design contest, Harris will receive a $200 stipend. She will also receive complimentary admission for two to the Golden Onion professional cooking competition to be held at the Vidalia Community Center, 107 Old Airport Road in Vidalia, Ga., 12:30-5 p.m. on Sunday, April 22, 2012. Overnight accommodations, dinner on Saturday evening and breakfast Sunday morning will also be provided.