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The New Georgia Problem

Millions were raised, thousands of voter applications went missing, and a lawsuit was filed in Rep. Stacey Abrams' bid to hold Georgia's largest voter registration drive in two decades. But something isn't right.

All eyes were on Stacey Abrams. On a Wednesday afternoon inside the Gold Dome last September, about three dozen people gathered around Georgia's House Minority Leader in a display of support. Standing behind a wooden podium and facing microphones and television cameras, the then-40-year-old Atlanta state lawmaker made one of the biggest public stands of her political career. She defended her voter registration initiative, New Georgia Project.

Eight days earlier, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp had subpoenaed documents from Abrams' group to investigate a series of alleged voter fraud violations. Kemp insisted that the suspect applications, fewer than one-tenth of one percent of the applications submitted, justified the broad subpoena. It was the secretary of state's biggest voter fraud investigation in nearly a decade, according to the office's top investigator.

At the press conference, Abrams characterized the secretary of state's probe as a different action: voter suppression. She said Kemp had failed to ensure that more than 51,000 NGP voter registration applications from mostly black, Hispanic, and Asian-American residents were added to the voter rolls. Francys Johnson, president of the NAACP's Georgia chapter, lambasted the "extremist" secretary of state for creating a false controversy. Ebenezer Baptist Church Senior Pastor Rev. Raphael Warnock drew a parallel between Kemp's aggressive investigation and the Ku Klux Klan's voter suppression tactics. Abrams stressed that NGP had cooperated with the investigation.

"If fraud is the intent to deceive, then what we have done is the exact opposite," Abrams said. "We've been open. We've been transparent. We've been aggressive in our attempt to be open and transparent."

A bitter feud ensued between a Republican official previously criticized for restricting voting rights and a Democratic lawmaker seeking to register residents all too familiar with those restrictions. Left with little recourse, Abrams filed a lawsuit demanding that Kemp's office and five counties add NGP's unprocessed voter registration applications to the voter rolls by any means necessary. A Fulton County Superior Court judge tossed out the case after little consideration.

Republicans walloped Democratic challengers Nov. 4. But Abrams, a rising political star rumored to have an eye on the governor's mansion, fared far better than most of her party members. In 2014 the state rep not only won re-election, but also became a national media darling and won major accolades from Emily's ListGoverning, and The Root. Abrams has become one of the most recognizable voting rights advocates in the state. The five-term state rep plans to continue that work for the foreseeable future.

Three months after the midterm election, the final results still baffle Democrats who felt good about their chances. Part of that has to do with NGP. Interviews with more than a dozen Democratic lawmakers, strategists, staffers, and voter registration activists suggest that something isn't right with the numbers and the narrative behind the initiative's massive efforts.

The importance of voter registration initiatives like NGP can't be overstated, especially in Southern states, where disenfranchisement has lingered nearly a half century after the passage of 1965's Voting Rights Act. But numerous sources, some requesting anonymity due to employment concerns, question how many of NGP's allegedly missing voter registration applications actually existed. If the applications existed, Abrams raised millions from donors but failed to register 120,000 minority residents as she had pledged. If the unprocessed applications never existed, then Abrams, perhaps in an attempt to distract from her group's failures, sued an official with a reputation for voter suppression, potentially knowing the case was unlikely to be won. Though not illegal, such a chain of events would have major political ramifications.

The secretary of state continues to investigate potential voter fraud by NGP staffers and canvassers. Its findings could result in felony charges, or it may turn up nothing. No one, including the secretary of state's office, has accused Abrams of malfeasance. But in the worst-case scenario, long-standing efforts to protect voting rights in Georgia could be jeopardized.

NGP's leaders have denied the accusations of voter fraud. The operation should be capable of ending the speculation with proof — copies of the forms, receipts, or other documentation. But its leaders have declined repeated requests from Creative Loafing for such materials, saying that they'll disclose some information later this year, once taxes are filed. Abrams, given numerous opportunities to clarify the matter, has refused to comment aside from the following one-sentence email statement: "I am proud of our continued efforts to register new voters and to increase access to the franchise in accordance with state and federal laws."

State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, a longtime civil rights advocate inside the Gold Dome, says Abrams, as the initiative's founder, ought to disclose NGP's registration numbers and outline its operations.

"We need to know how much money was spent, where the money came from, and what companies and individuals received the resources," Fort says. "New Georgia Project was a major player in voter registration last year. New Georgia Project engaged in issues of great public importance and had a great public impact."

OPEN RECORDS: State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, wants New Georgia Project to fully disclose its results, practices, and financial figures to the public. Photo by Joeff Davis/ CL File.
OPEN RECORDS: State Sen. Vincent Fort, D-Atlanta, wants New Georgia Project to fully disclose its results, practices, and financial figures to the public. Photo by Joeff Davis/ CL File.


He's not alone in his call for transparency. Other sources echo Fort's sentiments, especially as the 2016 presidential election approaches. Without full disclosure, simple answers have grown increasingly complicated.

Deep-red Georgia was on its way to becoming a purple state in 2014. At least some Democrats and progressive advocates hoped for that outcome. Political scientists estimated that a third of the state's unregistered minority residents — approximately 300,000 people — needed to vote for that to happen. With that number in mind, Abrams ambitiously decided to create an initiative in late 2013 to register 120,000 of the state's minority residents.

New Georgia Project, which has been called the state's largest voter drive in two decades, is Abrams' latest effort launched through her longtime nonprofit, Third Sector Development. The state rep founded TSD in 1998, when she was a Yale University law school student. TSD has lent assistance to underfunded groups that have organized relief work following Hurricane Katrina; offered ministry services inside prisons; and educated Georgians about the Affordable Care Act. The nonprofit, which today employs fewer than 10 staffers, has mostly conducted small grassroots campaigns in underserved Southern communities.

"Our work is focused on the most difficult-to-register communities," NGP Executive Director Nse Ufot wrote in a statement. "Minorities are much more likely than whites to register in a drive, which precipitated our large-scale, statewide effort."

To conduct a historic voter drive, NGP needed historic financial support. Abrams is known as an adept fundraiser. She didn't have much trouble finding donations to back her initiative. The money came from a number of different sources. Donors wrote at least $3 million in checks to her nonprofit — about double the amount Barack Obama invested into the state during his first presidential campaign — and roughly $863,000 to her political accounts.

NGP flew under the radar of many people throughout most of 2014. Numerous Democratic activists and state lawmakers, including longtime civil rights proponents, were caught off guard by the voter registration initiative. They were especially surprised to see Abrams become a major voting rights advocate in 2014. Four years ago, she voted with Republicans to reduce early voting from 45 days to 21 days, effectively breaking away from staunch voting rights supporters on the issue.

"We were kept in the dark, period," says state Sen. David Lucas, D-Macon. "[We didn't know] how much money was raised, who they paid to go out to do the work. We literally didn't know anything."

Abrams later told Georgia Legislative Black Caucus members, including Lucas and state Rep. "Able" Mable Thomas, D-Atlanta, about the nonprofit's fundraising results during a conference call in early October.

Money contributed to Abrams' political accounts had to be spent differently from money contributed to her nonprofit account. The state rep legally spent funds from her personal political account and her political action committee, Georgia Next, Inc., on partisan affairs, filing the proper disclosures for each. Since 2012, Abrams has given more than $260,000 to the Georgia House Democratic Caucus, an office working for state reps in the minority party, and the Democratic Party of Georgia, which has typically bolstered Democratic House candidates through the nonfederal account Georgia Leaders Campaign. The financial lines blurred among Abrams' three accounts from time to time. Some House Caucus employees drew portions of their paychecks from different accounts.

TSD is bound by a different set of laws due to its 501(c)(3) status. NGP staffers, canvassers, and volunteers are prohibited by the IRS to work on partisan issues — no campaigning for or against a specific candidate or party is allowed. That's true even for a group working with disenfranchised minority residents likely to vote Democratic. That's especially true for an organization overseen by a top Democratic official.

Abrams, in the way that many politicians do, regardless of party affiliation, found legal avenues to share resources between her public duties and private interests. Some people worked for both the House Caucus and NGP last year. For example, Dominque White worked as an NGP "verification lead" — making sure information added up on voter applications — after interning at the House Caucus during the 2014 legislative session.

Ufot wrote that NGP "has no involvement with any political activities or political organizations," including its founder's Gold Dome finances. Ufot declined to further elaborate about specific personnel matters.

"In a utopian society, sharing employees and resources is something I would have a problem with," says William Perry, executive director of government watchdog group Common Cause Georgia. "But in Georgia, it's perfectly legal. Those who work under the Gold Dome don't see it as a conflict. They use it to their advantage."

MOVING TARGET: 'All these numbers that the New Georgia Project was throwing out that [NGP] said they registered weren't showing up — €”40,000, 51,000, then getting sued over 56,000 people — those people weren't [going to the polls],' says Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Photo by Joeff Davis/ CL File.
MOVING TARGET: 'All these numbers that the New Georgia Project was throwing out that [NGP] said they registered weren't showing up — €”40,000, 51,000, then getting sued over 56,000 people — those people weren't [going to the polls],' says Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Photo by Joeff Davis/ CL File.


Conducting an effective voter registration drive can be difficult. But the rules are relatively simple. Any eligible person — defined as a mentally competent American adult who's not serving time for a felony conviction — can register voters without the government's permission or official training. County election offices, however, are legally required to offer training for individuals and groups on how to register voters. Third-party canvassers have important restrictions: no copying completed applications without a registrant's consent, no profiting off of personal data, no paying canvassers on a quota basis.

Within 10 days of receipt, a voter application must be submitted to a registrant's local county election office. County registrars then verify each voter registration application, weeding out duplicates or invalid forms. Completed forms from eligible voters get added to the voter rolls. The secretary of state isn't directly involved in processing the applications, but is ultimately responsible for overseeing local election offices.

If a form has missing or illegible information, registrars attempt to fill in the blanks by comparing the applicant's personal information with the Georgia Department of Driver Services and/or the Social Security Administration's databases. If those efforts prove unsuccessful, the registrar places an application on a "pending" list and sends a letter to the registrant requesting more information. If the registrant doesn't respond within 40 days, the application is removed from the pending list.

Despite Georgia's lax laws, many voter registration professionals hold themselves to a higher standard to ensure their work's integrity. For instance, Obama for America, which in 2008 employed more than 120 paid staffers and an army of volunteers to register voters statewide, poured resources into training its staffers and volunteers, turned over collected applications to officials within 24 hours of receipt, and clearly articulated to registrants how the process worked.

"We triple-checked with paid staff and volunteers to make sure they knew rules," says Lee Goodall, one of OFA's Georgia regional field directors in 2008. "There was a system of accountability."

 
According to Ufot, NGP also followed best practices and complied with state law. Abrams focused on fundraising and wasn't typically involved with NGP's daily operations. NGP hired third-party firms to handle much of the organization's fieldwork, research, communications, and public relations. NGP also collaborated with ProGeorgia, a coalition of 12 established local voter registration groups, to share research and attract more financial resources. NGP leaders insist that its standard operating procedures received approval from secretary of state officials and legal experts.

NGP, which Ufot states employed "hundreds of workers" last year, officially launched a roughly six-month voter registration drive in March 2014. Its first field office was opened shortly thereafter. The organization soon began recruiting paid canvassers from college campuses and elsewhere to ring doorbells in select neighborhoods that, according to internal NGP research, had high concentrations of unregistered minority voters. That particular canvassing tactic has the potential to yield higher results because canvassers have a higher chance of encountering unregistered voters than with passersby. But it can be a time-consuming and costly process.

ProGeorgia Executive Director Page Gleason says most of the coalition's groups used their limited resources to canvass at high-traffic locales — such as MARTA stations, grocery stores, or festivals — and persuade people, many of whom potentially were already registered voters, to head to the polls. NGP complemented the coalition's work, she says. Abrams' initiative got off to a fast start. According to Newsweek, her effort registered approximately 25,000 people in its first three months.

The investigation started with a single complaint. A Butts County election official reported that some canvassers were illegally telling voters they were required to re-register for the election. The complaint was filed on May 5, six months before Election Day, and prompted Kemp's office to launch a small-scale probe into NGP the following week.

The secretary of state's office didn't receive another formal complaint about NGP for months. But other problems, though officially unreported, continued elsewhere. Before the May primary, longtime Muscogee County Elections and Registration director Nancy Boren says two of her employees were asked at a Columbus, Ga. grocery store if they wanted to become paid canvassers for $11 per hour. The NGP workers were unaware they had approached election office staffers, Boren says. Her employees asked for more details about the gig.

Boren says, "[NGP employees] said, 'You can make $11 per hour, but you have to turn in a certain number of voter registration forms each week. If you don't turn in that number, you don't get asked back. If you're asked back the next week, and you meet your number again — I hate to use the word quota — maybe you'll get a ride to work, too.'"

Brad Jones, a Savannah State University student who worked as an NGP canvasser, expressed concerns to local TV reporters about the legitimacy of the initiative's practices in late May. He said the operation had poorly trained canvassers, improperly collected people's personal data, and instructed registrants to vote at a nonexistent polling precinct. The allegations prompted the NAACP's Johnson to hold a press conference, where he reiterated the group's protocols, effectively distancing his organization from NGP's work.

"If you see a volunteer with those five letters, NAACP, you can count that they are well trained and they can hold voter registration information in strict compliance with the law and they can assist every citizen with the right to vote," Johnson said at the Savannah press conference on June 4.

Abrams, who explained her NGP role as a founder and fundraiser, told Savannah-based CBS-affiliate WTOC that "every organization that hires people and wants to do the best work [has] quality control issues."

ACROSS THE AISLE: During the 2011 legislative session, state Rep. Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, voted for a Republican-backed measure to scale back early voting from 45 days to 21 days. Photo by Joeff Davis/ CL File.
ACROSS THE AISLE: During the 2011 legislative session, state Rep. Stacey Abrams, D-Atlanta, voted for a Republican-backed measure to scale back early voting from 45 days to 21 days. Photo by Joeff Davis/ CL File.


At Abrams' behest, NGP staffers first met with Kemp's office in early June. During the meeting the secretary of state's chief investigator, Chris Harvey, suggested NGP could improve its protocols. The conversation was "cordial, professional, and pleasant," he says. NGP leaders pledged to implement employee background checks, increase training requirements, and add stringent quality control procedures. NGP continued to have a working relationship with Kemp's office throughout the summer.

Formal NGP complaints subsided for two months. Around the last month of NGP's voter registration drive, which ended Sept. 15, six different election registrars filed complaints relating to 29 applications. Kemp's office received reports detailing forgeries and canvassers telling residents about voter re-registration requirements — both of which are illegal and can artificially inflate new registrant figures. Fulton County Registration Chief Shauna Dozier, whose office didn't file an NGP complaint, found forms with missing names, missing signatures, and illegible handwriting. Dozier offered to hold a free training session for NGP canvassers, something most groups proactively schedule themselves, she says. But Ronnie West, NGP's statewide field director, declined.

On Aug. 22, NGP leaders briefly met again with the secretary of state's office, but complaints continued to trickle in from across the state. Harvey says something had changed, however. He wasn't just seeing isolated problems in different counties. Multiple reports were emerging out of the same election offices — a sign of a larger problem.

"It reached a tipping point in my mind," Harvey says. "We got enough complaints from enough counties of confirmed forgeries. This was something that we needed to look at on a much larger level."

On Tues., Sept. 9, Kemp slapped both NGP and TSD with a subpoena demanding that all of their documents be turned over in one week's time. He also informed elections officials in Georgia's 159 counties about the "significant illegal activities" found in the initial investigation — a message that initially raised eyebrows among his critics. Five more county election officials responded with new voter fraud complaints by the end of the next day.

As NGP wound down its voter registration efforts that same week, Abrams launched a public relations battle against the secretary of state's office. She had already been catching flak from news reports for her ties to Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn — Abrams served as an informal adviser and donated to Nunn's campaign — all while running a nonpartisan voter registration effort. With supporters in tow at the Sept. 17 press conference, Abrams fought back. The state rep questioned Kemp's motives for launching the probe. She also criticized his office's "slow internal processes and a potentially flawed matching system." During her remarks, she pointed to 13 stacked plastic boxes with white, pink, and turquoise lids, filled with more than 51,000 pieces of paper. Each one, she explained, represented a Georgia resident who wanted to vote, but potentially couldn't because his or her application had gone unprocessed.

The NGP investigation quickly morphed into a proxy war for Democrats and Republicans who were already entrenched in two grueling statewide campaigns. Some Democratic politicos believe the National Republican Senatorial Committee played a behind-the-scenes role in turning the voter registration investigation into ammo that then-Republican U.S. Senate candidate David Perdue could use against Nunn. Kemp's office denies involvement with the NRSC. An audio recording surfaced from a July speech Kemp gave to Gwinnett County Republicans, cautioning them about newly registered minority voters who could swing the state's upcoming elections. Political donors pulled out their checkbooks to fund the skirmish. Almost $700,000 flowed into Abrams' PAC, including a half-million dollar check from Democratic financier George Soros. Another $64,400 came to her personal account, following the press conference. She ran unopposed for reelection in her district.

 
A few hours after NGP's Sept. 17 press conference, State Election Board officials held a public emergency hearing regarding the investigation. Harvey said the subpoena was needed to look into more than 25 forged voter registration applications — fewer than one percent of the overall forms NGP said it submitted. Moral Monday Georgia advocates protested during the presentation by silently standing throughout the room with pieces of tape placed over their mouths. Kemp dismissed speculation about attempts to stall voter registration.

The voter suppression accusations are believable. Kemp has a track record of allegedly blocking access to the polls. Five years ago, investigators for the secretary of state descended upon the 3,850-person town of Quitman, Ga., to look into alleged voter fraud after an election resulting in the first-ever African-American majority on the Brooks County Board of Education. State officials charged 12 people with a string of felonies. Those charges ultimately were dropped last December.

Kemp has also refused to comply with the National Voter Registration Act in the past. State agencies, which by law are required to offer residents who receive public benefits the opportunity to register to vote, weren't doing so for years. The secretary of state's office agreed to enforce that mandate only after the NAACP and the Coalition for the Peoples' Agenda filed a lawsuit in 2011. In addition, his office made errors that ultimately purged more than a thousand people from Georgia's voter rolls in 2012.

FINDING FRAUD: Secretary of State Chief Investigator Chris Harvey presents his initial findings about NGP, including dozens of forgeries, during a State Election Board emergency hearing on Sept. 17. Photo by Joeff Davis/ CL File.
FINDING FRAUD: Secretary of State Chief Investigator Chris Harvey presents his initial findings about NGP, including dozens of forgeries, during a State Election Board emergency hearing on Sept. 17. Photo by Joeff Davis/ CL File.


NGP's allegedly missing applications escalated into a national controversy. Kemp reiterated that county registrars, not his office, were directly responsible for processing all applications. The press, including CL's editorial board, lambasted Kemp for a dereliction of his duty.

"We were criticized for being on a witch hunt, but we handled this case just like we do with any other complaint," Kemp says. "People were calling me a racist and a vote suppressor — that bothered me a lot. That's not the case. It's very hypocritical for people to say that."

Kemp's office received five other voter registration complaints apart from ones directed at NGP in 2014, according to an open records request. After brief investigations, none of them led to charges. Kemp spokesman Jared Thomas says those figures are consistent with annual complaint totals in recent years, making NGP an anomaly, he says. Final NGP complaint numbers are unavailable due to the active investigation. But at an Oct. 7 meeting, Kemp told State Election Board members that they had so far found 50 fraudulent applications and 49 suspect applications.

CL has made repeated requests to view the thousands of unprocessed applications to confirm their existence. NGP denied each request, citing rules from Georgia's election code, specifically Section 183-1-6.02, protecting voter registrants' personal information. Transmittal forms — receipts accompanying voter registration applications that don't include personal information — for the unprocessed applications were also requested. NGP declined that request as well, citing the many hours it would take to compile the forms. In lieu of the requested documents, the organization shared five affidavits, plus a document listing 10 other examples, of new NGP registrants who either had not had their names added to the voter rolls or had experienced major difficulties in the process.

The voter registration deadline was Oct. 6. In a series of letters sent that week to the secretary of state's office, Julie Houk, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Senior Special Counsel, claimed that more than 40,000 NGP registrants had not yet made it onto the voter rolls or pending lists. She requested a meeting with Kemp to resolve the matter. C. Ryan Germany, Kemp's general counsel, declined to arrange the discussion, in part due to NGP's threatened litigation.

With no resolution in sight, the Lawyers' Committee filed a lawsuit on behalf of New Georgia Project and the NAACP. The suit demanded that Kemp and Chatham, Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton, and Muscogee counties, all of which are strong Democratic bases where NGP says it collected the most applications, immediately add tens of thousands of voters onto the state's rolls by any means necessary. The lawsuit claimed that 56,001 of NGP's more than 81,606 applicants had not been placed onto the secretary of state's eligible or pending voter lists. The number of disputed registrants fell to about 40,000 after NGP settled with DeKalb and Chatham county officials before a hearing in Fulton County Superior Court.

Throughout October Abrams made speeches, conducted interviews, and appeared on national television to discuss how unprocessed applications had fallen into a "black hole." Others joined the fight. Georgia Democratic congressmen John Lewis, Hank Johnson, and Sanford Bishop staged a press conference in support of Abrams' efforts. The Lawyers' Committee filed an open records request, and eight activists went to jail following a sit-in inside Kemp's office.

NGP's legal effort stalled during a two-hour hearing on Oct. 28. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Christopher Brasher, appointed by former Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2006, tossed out the petition because it was "entirely devoid" of evidence against the secretary of state or local county registrars. Brasher declined to hear testimony from people whom NGP had registered, but who weren't added to the voter rolls, and instead urged them to cast provisional ballots. The judge said secretary of state and county officials abided by the law. As a result, they weren't required to testify under oath about their procedures.

MISSING IN ACTION? No NGP registrants reported formal complaints to the secretary of state'€™s office on Election Day. Photo by Joeff Davis/ CL File.
MISSING IN ACTION? No NGP registrants reported formal complaints to the secretary of state'€™s office on Election Day. Photo by Joeff Davis/ CL File.


Bob Kengle, co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers' Committee, wrote in a statement that, "The Secretary of State's operations have been shielded from scrutiny. ... This lawsuit was a lost opportunity to prevent [minority voters'] disenfranchisement."

No appeal was filed in the week before Election Day. On Nov. 4 political observers anxiously waited to see whether voters whom NGP had registered, but who didn't officially make it on the voter rolls, would be turned away at the polls. According to one lawyer, who observed the election process and awaited calls about potential legal problems once the polls closed, no disenfranchised voters reported formal complaints in person that evening.

"Nothing out of the ordinary," Kemp says. "The process worked."

NGP attorney Dara Lindenbaum says the lack of formal complaints with the secretary of state's office is unsurprising, given the lack of a clear reporting process. "Additionally, voters — particularly [first-time] voters — often feel too intimidated, embarrassed or uncertain to file a formal complaint," she stated via email.

Kemp spokesman Thomas says the complaint process is easy, no matter one's prior voting experience.

NGP partnered with 866-OURVOTE, a national nonpartisan voter protection hotline, which nationally received more than 18,000 calls on Election Day. The Lawyers' Committee logged 2,007 calls from Georgians that day, including a variety of different complaints; some related to voter registration, others related to run-of-the-mill problems such as long precinct lines. NGP and the Lawyers' Committee continue to look into potential Election Day problems, Ufot says. But, to date, no NGP registrant has filed a lawsuit.

"It's a fundamental, basic American right to vote," Rev. Warnock said in an interview with The Intercept three days after the polls closed. Judging by Georgia's abysmal 34-percent voter turnout, down six percentage points from the last midterm election in 2010, few seemed to care about that right. Georgia remained redder than ever despite two viable statewide candidates in Nunn and Jason Carter, and the biggest voter registration effort in two decades.

"If 2008 was insufficient to turn out minority voters, the events of 2014 weren't going to do that," University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock says. "Getting people who are politically apathetic involved is difficult. [NGP] may have been a higher-profile effort that spent more money. But there are the same kinds of challenges."

Determining the exact number of NGP's voter registration applications is difficult, even months after the election. Here's what we know: The total number of NGP registrants falls between about 49,300, according to Kemp, and about 86,000, according to Ufot. Two weeks after the voter registration deadline, Kemp reported more than 39,300 NGP registrants had made it onto the voter rolls, another 10,000 or so applications were pending, and almost 6,500 were deemed ineligible or invalid. Ufot, who's currently analyzing the election voter file, declined to share the number of registrants whom the group either landed on the voter rolls or who got to cast ballots.

Abrams missed her initial six-figure registrant goal even under the best of circumstances. NGP's well-funded, high-profile initiative may not have performed better than past grassroots efforts to register minority voters. According to Democratic database VoteBuilder, 2014 showed little to no progress among potential minority voter registration compared to average annual gains in recent nonpresidential elections.

One Democratic strategist and former Abrams staffer says, "[New Georgia Project] underperformed what was done in 2010. Absolutely nothing was done in 2010. It's hard to grasp how unsuccessful her effort was, given the amount of money raised."

Not everyone sees last year's registration results in the same light. ProGeorgia and its partner groups, which are also crunching the final election numbers, don't know yet how many new registrants ultimately cast ballots last year. But ProGeorgia's Gleason says their efforts alongside NGP had a huge impact in a midterm election that favored Republicans throughout the nation. "Democratic candidates may not have won, but we saw trends that showed we changed people's voting behaviors," she says.

Numerous Democratic strategists say Abrams, who was focused on NGP, abdicated her most important role as Georgia House minority leader. By prioritizing her initiative, they say, she missed opportunities to win back seats in the lower chamber. The House minority leader has traditionally worked with candidates, donated to campaigns, and run attack ads against opponents. According to Democratic campaign sources, support plummeted in 2014: Mailers proved ineffective, fundraising commitments vanished, and Republicans in potentially competitive districts ran uncontested. Even some strong Democratic incumbents managed to squeak by with only razor-thin margins.

CAST A BALLOT: As protesters staged a sit-in inside the secretary of state's office on Oct. 27, additional supporters lifted signs to the window (left) and chanted,
CAST A BALLOT: As protesters staged a sit-in inside the secretary of state's office on Oct. 27, additional supporters lifted signs to the window (left) and chanted,


The biggest consequence stemming from NGP's operation dwarfs the concerns regarding Abrams' political prospects, her group's results, or the party's progress. Multiple sources say that Abrams, in filing a lawsuit that potentially distracts from her voter registration numbers, could jeopardize voting rights advances. If the missing applications don't exist, one state lawmaker says, Abrams will have undermined the very people her initiative sought to uplift.

"This is something that I've been worried will break, because it completely substantiates the false, hyperbolic idea of rampant voter fraud that's used, in my opinion to chill and suppress voter turnout," one Democratic operative says.

The Gold Dome is no stranger to voter suppression tactics. Following a historic push by officials in left-leaning counties to allow Sunday voting in Georgia, state Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming, has introduced a bill to scale back early voting from 21 days to 12 days — all under the guise of mandating Sunday voting in every county. There's fear that Republican lawmakers could use NGP's alleged voter fraud as a reason to push additional legislation to further restrict voting rights.

The voter fraud investigation continues. Harvey is sifting through thousands of, in his words, "messily organized" NGP documents. The initial investigation looked only at NGP application complaints submitted by county officials. It wasn't until after the election that investigators began scouring documents to identify new voter fraud suspects. Harvey is still awaiting straggling pieces of information from NGP.

"It's not like we're going to be able look at each single application with a jeweler's loupe," Harvey says. "We're looking for specific individuals that may have been more involved ... identifying key players in the whole investigation."

The open investigation will last at least several more months, Harvey says. No NGP workers currently face voter fraud charges. According to state law, each falsified voter registration application could result in a felony charge such as forgery, making false statements, false voter registration, or providing fraudulent information. A single felony charge could result in a maximum sentence of 10 years and/or a $100,000 fine.

New Georgia Project appeared to be a one-off blitzkrieg to send people to the polls. Abrams has since decided that NGP will stick around. The operation says it plans to continue making inroads with unregistered minorities to strengthen voting rights through the 2016 presidential election and beyond.

"As we continue to develop our future plans, our core mission will focus on registering and engaging the hundreds of thousands of unregistered [African-Americans], Latinos and Asian Americans in the state, while maintaining a dialogue with the citizens we registered last year," Ufot writes.

Transparency and a road map for how NGP will move forward should be a given, considering the stakes, namely the 2016 presidential election, and the financial support that will be needed to register voters on such a massive scale. Abrams and Ufot reiterate NGP's compliance with state and federal law. Ufot says the initiative will continue to do so when it reports all required information to the IRS on its 2014 990 forms. At the appropriate time, Ufot says that information will be released.

"If everything was cool, lay the numbers out there," one senior Democratic operative says. "If New Georgia Project says, 'We did a bad job, here are the lessons we learned,' or that there was an anti-Democratic headwind, that's fine. But sitting on it sends a bad message."

In a Huffington Post column from Nov. 3, Abrams urged Kemp, whom she dubbed "the CEO of Voting, Inc.," to operate his "business" with more transparency and accountability to better serve his "citizen shareholders." Abrams, unafraid to speak her mind in a heated campaign season, has turned noticeably quiet when the same requests are being made of her organization.

The Nunn family, which used its political clout to steer donations to Abrams' nonprofit, is reportedly among those who seek answers, according to one Michelle Nunn campaign source unauthorized to discuss the matter. Former Nunn campaign manager Jeff DiSantis declined to elaborate further on the potential accounting.

"As part of the effort to bring positive change to our state, we know every organization, including the candidates' campaigns, the Democratic Party, and voter engagement and mobilization groups, [is reviewing] efforts to assess what worked well and what can be improved," DiSantis wrote in a statement on behalf of Nunn.

Democratic Strategist Tharon Johnson — who's worked campaigns for President Barack Obama, Congressman John Lewis, and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed — says the groundwork needed to help a presidential candidate win in Georgia must start now. To do so, he says, top Democratic officials need to work together to register more voters.

"We cannot wait until 2016 to start registering voters in Georgia if we want national Democratic candidates to take us seriously," Johnson says.

If the clock's already ticking for the next election, an assessment of last year's election can't come fast enough. Abrams is assuming that voters, party members, and donors should believe in NGP's integrity without the initiative proving its merits. But her decision to wait roughly a year to disclose basic information could prove detrimental well beyond her political ambitions. With pivotal presidential and statewide elections on the horizon, Abrams, effectively the CEO of Voter Registration, Inc., now faces her biggest business decision.



More By This Writer

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  string(13609) "::::No value assignedForty days. That’s how long the Georgia General Assembly has by law to decide what laws should be passed, tweaked, or repealed to run the state. Will lawmakers overhaul Georgia’s education spending? Help MARTA keep expanding? Thumb its nose at the chaos happening in Washington, D.C., or mimic here at home? Here’s a rundown of some of the issues that are on lawmakers’ minds.


EDUCATIONWhen it came to education, Gov. Nathan Deal had a clear plan for the 2017 legislative session: Overhaul Georgia’s school funding formula, the one that’s remained in place since 1985, old enough for the septuagenarian governor to compare it to a Commodore 64 during his “State of the State” address two years ago.But the best-laid plans of politicians often go awry: Voters rejected his Opportunity Schools District referendum intended to fix failing schools but would have seized control from leaders in marginalized communities. Now Deal wants to revisit how to turn around 153 schools that have had failing test schools for three consecutive years — a rising trend that now affects nearly 89,000 students.“If this pattern of escalation in the number of failing schools does not change, its devastating effects on our state will grow with each passing school year,” Deal said during this year’s “State of the State.”Deal’s “Plan B” is still on the drawing board. For starters, though, he wants to give teachers a 2 percent raise in the upcoming budget. But expect anything else beyond that to focus on elementary school students first. How will that happen exactly? The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, following its poll that found voters mostly backed school choice, has reported school vouchers might be in the cards. But the plan’s supposed architect, State Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, has kept quiet on the matter to date.“There’s no magic silver bullet,” says Georgia Budget and Policy Institute senior education policy analyst Claire Suggs. “Just complex and hard work. There needs to be a conversation about the needs of these children, and how to best meet these needs. Whatever emerges should reflect that.”Though Deal has increased K-12 funding by $2 billion over four years, Suggs says the money is just one step toward fully restoring the more than $9 billion in austerity cuts made since 2003. Those funding cuts, state auditors found, have in turn forced college tuition costs to increase by 77 percent over a decade. Expect lawmakers to watch that debate closely: Not just because of its impact on tuition, but because casino backers, who say their foray into Georgia could save the HOPE Scholarship, might use it as a way to gain traction under the Gold Dome.
No value assigned

HEALTHLast summer, policy experts were crafting a plan to increase health insurance coverage to Georgians living on low incomes. In other words, it was an effort to expand Medicaid without expanding Medicaid.Those plans are now on hold, and potentially dead, now that Donald Trump is moving into the White House. With a promise to repeal and (maybe) replace the Affordable Care Act, state officials are now waiting to see what policy comes out of Washington, D.C. Deal said just as much during his annual “State of the State” address, warning lawmakers “against taking giant leaps on health care policy.”State reps and senators will instead focus on ways to keep hospitals from going broke and shutting their doors. First on the to-do list is giving the state department of public health the authority to continue collecting a fee — opponents call it a “bed tax” — hospitals pay. The fee helps generate roughly $900 million a year to fund Medicaid and PeachCare, the state’s insurance program for children living in poverty.Also up for consideration is an effort by state Rep. Geoff Duncan, R-Cumming, to improve a tax credit aimed at coaxing people to donate to rural hospitals. Duncan, who’s said to be considering a gubernatorial run in 2018, wants to increase the credit from 70 percent to 90 percent to make it more attractive.In addition, lawmakers will also consider whether making access to Naloxone, a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses, more readily available. Deal did so in an executive order but he’s asking the General Assembly to codify the measure. And state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, is pushing to allow in-state cultivation of medical marijuana. State law is silent on how people can actually obtain the cannabis oil permitted in Georgia.


No value assigned


TRANSPORTATIONOn Jan. 10, House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, broached an idea that just 10 years ago would have been blasphemy to a Georgia Republican: The state would consider funding transit, an important mode of transportation that up until now has mainly been bankrolled by Atlanta, Fulton, and DeKalb counties and the feds.Granted, “considering” allocating cash toward rail and buses is not the same as actually doing it. But the fact that a North Georgia Republican would mention the possibility shows just how far transit, and MARTA, has come under the Gold Dome. After decades of shunning buses and rail as a viable option and demonizing MARTA as a crime-ridden money sump, lawmakers have taken notice. The fact that corporations want to relocate, and developers build, near transit stops, has helped.Last year the Legislature gave Atlanta the OK to ask voters to approve a sales tax to pay for a $2.5 billion expansion of MARTA in the city limits (they overwhelmingly agreed). This year the General Assembly might be asked to do the same for a $5.5 billion boost in unincorporated DeKalb and Fulton.Whether that happens during the next 40 days, or next year, depends on a variety of factors. DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond, new to the job, might first wish to clean up the dysfunctional county before asking residents to hand over more in taxes. There’s also the question over whether South Fulton leaders and North Fulton elected officials, some of whom have gone as far as pushing legislation denouncing MARTA rail, can agree.“I hope this will be another year we can build on our success,” says MARTA Board Chairman Robbie Ashe. “We’re very proud of the job MARTA CEO Keith Parker and his team have done and we think the recent election results make it crystal clear that when transit is on the ballot, transit wins. We believe the rest of Fulton and DeKalb deserve the same choice that Atlanta’s voters got.”In addition, lawmakers will once again weigh the pros and cons of creating a regional transit agency to wrangle metro Atlanta’s various transit systems, potentially allowing seamless transfers between buses and rail systems. Someone should tell them there’s already one up and running. Its name is MARTA.
No value assigned

RELIGIOUS FREEDOMState Sen. Josh McKoon isn’t letting last year’s failed attempt to pass a “religious freedom” bill — or contentious battles over the issue in other states — stop him from trying again. The Columbus Republican tells Creative Loafing he’s resurrecting the measure that critics say would pave the way for discrimination. But McKoon says this year’s version will be an easier pill to swallow than its predecessors.McKoon — or possibly one of his colleagues, he says — will drop a bill this week that will mirror the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act enacted in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. That measure “ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected.”Not surprisingly, the American Civil Liberties Union Georgia chapter Executive Director Andrea Young says the organization will not endorse a state-level RFRA. She says Georgia needs a comprehensive civil rights act replete with protections for all people. “The issue of civil rights needs to be looked at in its entirety,” she says.McKoon says the measure is not anti-LGBTQ. He claims his RFRA pitch last year, Senate Bill 129, caught flak and failed because it was lumped into legislation alongside the “Pastor Protection Act,” a statute that would have allowed religious institutions to deny services in cases that infringed upon their beliefs, such as performing same-sex marriages.McKoon this year is using the story of Nabila Khan, a Muslim Georgia State University student who was asked by a teacher to remove her face-concealing religious veil. Khan declined, and the university backed her up, according to the Signal, the school’s student paper. McKoon says SB 129 could have helped her situation, especially if Khan wound up facing charges for violating Georgia’s anti-mask code.“What about the next person who’s confronted by an authority figure, who doesn’t challenge that person?” McKoon says. Under a state-enforced RFRA, “the government, to enforce that criminal statute, would have to show a compelling state interest and show that this is the least restrictive means,” he says.
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BUDGETNow that the part-time lawmakers have parked their horses outside the Gold Dome, they are required to do one thing before they head back to Americus and Zebulon: pass the damn budget! Deal says that task shouldn’t be too tricky considering Georgia has projected a revenue growth of 3.6 percent. From his dais last week, Deal unveiled Georgia’s $25 billion spending plans for the upcoming fiscal year — one of the largest in the state’s history.Yeah, yeah, yeah. Budget, how boring. What’s that cash being spent on? State troopers are getting a 20 percent pay hike to boost morale and lower turnover. (Don’t worry, teachers and child welfare social workers, the guv’s got your back, too.) There’s also more than $1 billion in cash for loans to fund construction for a new Georgia Supreme Court building, Georgia World Congress Center upgrades, and a fancy technical college near the governor’s home up in Hall County.
SON OF A GUN: State Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, plans to bring back his legislation allowing permitted gun owners to tote their shootin’ irons on campus.Joeff Davis

GUNSIt wouldn’t be a legislative session without bills expanding the number of places where people can carry guns. At least four pieces of firearm-related legislation are headed through this year, including the return of the controversial “Campus Carry” bill by state Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper.The bill, which Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed last year, would have allowed college students with carry permits at Georgia’s public universities to tote guns on campus.University System of Georgia officials, school leaders, gun-control advocacy groups, and concerned parents opposed the measure. This year it’s returning with the exact same language, the lawmaker tells CL.“I can carry my weapon if I take my 3-year-old to day care today,” Jasperse says. Why not a college campus?Democrats are likely to oppose the bill, and state Rep. Keisha Waites, D-Atlanta, is reviving her effort to require gun safety training for all firearm carry permit applicants. She likened a safety course mandate to a driver’s license test.“Think about the recent shooting we just had with the individual who was ex-military,” she says, referring to the Iraq war veteran who shot and killed five people in a Florida airport. “Can you imagine a scenario with a good guy with his weapon, but he can’t shoot it, he can’t load it, he knows nothing about it or how it puts the public at-large in danger?”But even Waites' benign proposal is too much for Second Amendment advocates. Both Jasperse and Jerry Henry, executive director of Second Amendment advocacy group Georgia Carry, say government-mandated training would be unnecessary and unconstitutional. U.S. citizens aren’t tested before becoming eligible to vote, they argue, and therefore shouldn’t be tested prior to exercising their rights.Another gun bill detested by Jasperse and Henry, filed in November by state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, aims to ban assault rifles as well as explosive ammo, high-capacity magazines, and silencers.“I want somebody to justify why a cop killer bullet should be sold,” Oliver says, citing the July attack on Dallas police officers, which was carried out by an Army vet wielding legally obtained weapons.
ATLANTA’S WISH LISTIn past years, most of the favors Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council have asked state lawmakers to grant centered around getting the state’s OK to hike taxes on booze. Occasionally, you’d see a measure or two aimed at gun control that promptly went nowhere in the Republican-controlled Gold Dome.This year city officials want House reps and senators to tweak laws to help eradicate blight by allowing the city to move faster on getting rid of dilapidated properties it takes over (and tweaking the state’s eminent domain law to do so), keeping secret some records gathered by a citizen advisory group that hears complaints about police misconduct, and allowing earlier pour times at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Priorities!

CRAZY BILLSDo not rule out nonsense during the legislative session. In addition to debating whether casinos should be allowed in Georgia, lawmakers will also hear measures to aggravate immigrants by tacking a fee on wire transfers to other countries and withhold state funding from colleges that push back against immigration policies. Considering past years have brought us measures advocating for the state to ignore federal laws and bills that prohibit the involuntary implantation of microchips in people, the sky’s the limit."
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________
::____::
::__EDUCATION__::When it came to education, Gov. Nathan Deal had a clear plan for the 2017 legislative session: Overhaul Georgia’s school funding formula, the one that’s remained in place since 1985, old enough for the septuagenarian governor to compare it to a Commodore 64 during his “State of the State” address two years ago.But the best-laid plans of politicians often go awry: Voters rejected his Opportunity Schools District referendum intended to fix failing schools but would have seized control from leaders in marginalized communities. Now Deal wants to revisit how to turn around 153 schools that have had failing test schools for three consecutive years — a rising trend that now affects nearly 89,000 students.“If this pattern of escalation in the number of failing schools does not change, its devastating effects on our state will grow with each passing school year,” Deal said during this year’s “State of the State.”Deal’s “Plan B” is still on the drawing board. For starters, though, he wants to give teachers a 2 percent raise in the upcoming budget. But expect anything else beyond that to focus on elementary school students first. How will that happen exactly? The ''Atlanta Journal-Constitution'', following its poll that found voters mostly backed school choice, has reported school vouchers might be in the cards. But the plan’s supposed architect, State Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, has kept quiet on the matter to date.“There’s no magic silver bullet,” says Georgia Budget and Policy Institute senior education policy analyst Claire Suggs. “Just complex and hard work. There needs to be a conversation about the needs of these children, and how to best meet these needs. Whatever emerges should reflect that.”Though Deal has increased K-12 funding by $2 billion over four years, Suggs says the money is just one step toward fully restoring the more than $9 billion in austerity cuts made since 2003. Those funding cuts, state auditors found, have in turn forced college tuition costs to increase by 77 percent over a decade. Expect lawmakers to watch that debate closely: Not just because of its impact on tuition, but because casino backers, who say their foray into Georgia could save the HOPE Scholarship, might use it as a way to gain traction under the Gold Dome.____
____%{[ data-embed-type="image" data-embed-id="587fcf3b6cdeeab644a8d9c5" data-embed-element="span" data-embed-size="640w" contenteditable="false" ]}%____
::____::
::__HEALTH__::Last summer, policy experts were crafting a plan to increase health insurance coverage to Georgians living on low incomes. In other words, it was an effort to expand Medicaid without expanding Medicaid.Those plans are now on hold, and potentially dead, now that Donald Trump is moving into the White House. With a promise to repeal and (maybe) replace the Affordable Care Act, state officials are now waiting to see what policy comes out of Washington, D.C. Deal said just as much during his annual “State of the State” address, warning lawmakers “against taking giant leaps on health care policy.”State reps and senators will instead focus on ways to keep hospitals from going broke and shutting their doors. First on the to-do list is giving the state department of public health the authority to continue collecting a fee — opponents call it a “bed tax” — hospitals pay. The fee helps generate roughly $900 million a year to fund Medicaid and PeachCare, the state’s insurance program for children living in poverty.Also up for consideration is an effort by state Rep. Geoff Duncan, R-Cumming, to improve a tax credit aimed at coaxing people to donate to rural hospitals. Duncan, who’s said to be considering a gubernatorial run in 2018, wants to increase the credit from 70 percent to 90 percent to make it more attractive.In addition, lawmakers will also consider whether making access to Naloxone, a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses, more readily available. Deal did so in an executive order but he’s asking the General Assembly to codify the measure. And state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, is pushing to allow in-state cultivation of medical marijuana. State law is silent on how people can actually obtain the cannabis oil permitted in Georgia.
::____::
::____::
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::____::
::____::
::__TRANSPORTATION__::On Jan. 10, House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, broached an idea that just 10 years ago would have been blasphemy to a Georgia Republican: The state would consider funding transit, an important mode of transportation that up until now has mainly been bankrolled by Atlanta, Fulton, and DeKalb counties and the feds.Granted, “considering” allocating cash toward rail and buses is not the same as actually doing it. But the fact that a North Georgia Republican would mention the possibility shows just how far transit, and MARTA, has come under the Gold Dome. After decades of shunning buses and rail as a viable option and demonizing MARTA as a crime-ridden money sump, lawmakers have taken notice. The fact that corporations want to relocate, and developers build, near transit stops, has helped.Last year the Legislature gave Atlanta the OK to ask voters to approve a sales tax to pay for a $2.5 billion expansion of MARTA in the city limits (they overwhelmingly agreed). This year the General Assembly might be asked to do the same for a $5.5 billion boost in unincorporated DeKalb and Fulton.Whether that happens during the next 40 days, or next year, depends on a variety of factors. DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond, new to the job, might first wish to clean up the dysfunctional county before asking residents to hand over more in taxes. There’s also the question over whether South Fulton leaders and North Fulton elected officials, some of whom have gone as far as pushing legislation denouncing MARTA rail, can agree.“I hope this will be another year we can build on our success,” says MARTA Board Chairman Robbie Ashe. “We’re very proud of the job [MARTA CEO] Keith Parker and his team have done and we think the recent election results make it crystal clear that when transit is on the ballot, transit wins. We believe the rest of Fulton and DeKalb deserve the same choice that Atlanta’s voters got.”In addition, lawmakers will once again weigh the pros and cons of creating a regional transit agency to wrangle metro Atlanta’s various transit systems, potentially allowing seamless transfers between buses and rail systems. Someone should tell them there’s already one up and running. Its name is MARTA.
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::____::
::__RELIGIOUS FREEDOM__::State Sen. Josh McKoon isn’t letting last year’s failed attempt to pass a “religious freedom” bill — or contentious battles over the issue in other states — stop him from trying again. The Columbus Republican tells ''Creative Loafing'' he’s resurrecting the measure that critics say would pave the way for discrimination. But McKoon says this year’s version will be an easier pill to swallow than its predecessors.McKoon — or possibly one of his colleagues, he says — will drop a bill this week that will mirror the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act enacted in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. That measure “ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected.”Not surprisingly, the American Civil Liberties Union Georgia chapter Executive Director Andrea Young says the organization will not endorse a state-level RFRA. She says Georgia needs a comprehensive civil rights act replete with protections for all people. “The issue of civil rights needs to be looked at in its entirety,” she says.McKoon says the measure is not anti-LGBTQ. He claims his RFRA pitch last year, Senate Bill 129, caught flak and failed because it was lumped into legislation alongside the “Pastor Protection Act,” a statute that would have allowed religious institutions to deny services in cases that infringed upon their beliefs, such as performing same-sex marriages.McKoon this year is using the story of Nabila Khan, a Muslim Georgia State University student who was asked by a teacher to remove her face-concealing religious veil. Khan declined, and the university backed her up, according to the ''Signal'', the school’s student paper. McKoon says SB 129 could have helped her situation, especially if Khan wound up facing charges for violating Georgia’s anti-mask code.“What about the next person who’s confronted by an authority figure, who doesn’t challenge that person?” McKoon says. Under a state-enforced RFRA, “the government, to enforce that criminal statute, would have to show a compelling state interest and show that this is the least restrictive means,” he says.____
____%{[ data-embed-type="image" data-embed-id="587fcada57ab46ce3a6daede" data-embed-element="span" data-embed-size="640w" contenteditable="false" ]}%____
::__BUDGET__::Now that the part-time lawmakers have parked their horses outside the Gold Dome, they are required to do one thing before they head back to Americus and Zebulon: pass the damn budget! Deal says that task shouldn’t be too tricky considering Georgia has projected a revenue growth of 3.6 percent. From his dais last week, Deal unveiled Georgia’s $25 billion spending plans for the upcoming fiscal year — one of the largest in the state’s history.Yeah, yeah, yeah. Budget, how boring. What’s that cash being spent on? State troopers are getting a 20 percent pay hike to boost morale and lower turnover. (Don’t worry, teachers and child welfare social workers, the guv’s got your back, too.) There’s also more than $1 billion in cash for loans to fund construction for a new Georgia Supreme Court building, Georgia World Congress Center upgrades, and a fancy technical college near the governor’s home up in Hall County.____
____{img src="//media.baseplatform.io/files/base/scomm/clatl/image/2017/01/640w/cover_preview1_3_39.587fcd7b1eb34.png"}SON OF A GUN: State Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, plans to bring back his legislation allowing permitted gun owners to tote their shootin’ irons on campus.Joeff Davis
::____::
::__GUNS__::It wouldn’t be a legislative session without bills expanding the number of places where people can carry guns. At least four pieces of firearm-related legislation are headed through this year, including the return of the controversial “Campus Carry” bill by state Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper.The bill, which Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed last year, would have allowed college students with carry permits at Georgia’s public universities to tote guns on campus.University System of Georgia officials, school leaders, gun-control advocacy groups, and concerned parents opposed the measure. This year it’s returning with the exact same language, the lawmaker tells ''CL''.“I can carry my weapon if I take my 3-year-old to day care today,” Jasperse says. Why not a college campus?Democrats are likely to oppose the bill, and state Rep. Keisha Waites, D-Atlanta, is reviving her effort to require gun safety training for all firearm carry permit applicants. She likened a safety course mandate to a driver’s license test.“Think about the recent shooting we just had with the individual who was ex-military,” she says, referring to the Iraq war veteran who shot and killed five people in a Florida airport. “Can you imagine a scenario with a good guy with his weapon, but he can’t shoot it, he can’t load it, he knows nothing about it or how it puts the public at-large in danger?”But even Waites' benign proposal is too much for Second Amendment advocates. Both Jasperse and Jerry Henry, executive director of Second Amendment advocacy group Georgia Carry, say government-mandated training would be unnecessary and unconstitutional. U.S. citizens aren’t tested before becoming eligible to vote, they argue, and therefore shouldn’t be tested prior to exercising their rights.Another gun bill detested by Jasperse and Henry, filed in November by state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, aims to ban assault rifles as well as explosive ammo, high-capacity magazines, and silencers.“I want somebody to justify why a cop killer bullet should be sold,” Oliver says, citing the July attack on Dallas police officers, which was carried out by an Army vet wielding legally obtained weapons.
::__ATLANTA’S WISH LIST__::In past years, most of the favors Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council have asked state lawmakers to grant centered around getting the state’s OK to hike taxes on booze. Occasionally, you’d see a measure or two aimed at gun control that promptly went nowhere in the Republican-controlled Gold Dome.This year city officials want House reps and senators to tweak laws to help eradicate blight by allowing the city to move faster on getting rid of dilapidated properties it takes over (and tweaking the state’s eminent domain law to do so), keeping secret some records gathered by a citizen advisory group that hears complaints about police misconduct, and allowing earlier pour times at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Priorities!____
____
::__CRAZY BILLS__::Do not rule out nonsense during the legislative session. In addition to debating whether casinos should be allowed in Georgia, lawmakers will also hear measures to aggravate immigrants by tacking a fee on wire transfers to other countries and withhold state funding from colleges that push back against immigration policies. Considering past years have brought us measures advocating for the state to ignore federal laws and bills that prohibit the involuntary implantation of microchips in people, the sky’s the limit."
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  string(13945) "    Guns, health care and some good old-fashioned edumacation   2017-01-19T01:43:00+00:00 2017 Legislative Preview   Thomas Wheatley|Max Blau|Sean Keenan  2017-01-19T01:43:00+00:00  ::::No value assignedForty days. That’s how long the Georgia General Assembly has by law to decide what laws should be passed, tweaked, or repealed to run the state. Will lawmakers overhaul Georgia’s education spending? Help MARTA keep expanding? Thumb its nose at the chaos happening in Washington, D.C., or mimic here at home? Here’s a rundown of some of the issues that are on lawmakers’ minds.


EDUCATIONWhen it came to education, Gov. Nathan Deal had a clear plan for the 2017 legislative session: Overhaul Georgia’s school funding formula, the one that’s remained in place since 1985, old enough for the septuagenarian governor to compare it to a Commodore 64 during his “State of the State” address two years ago.But the best-laid plans of politicians often go awry: Voters rejected his Opportunity Schools District referendum intended to fix failing schools but would have seized control from leaders in marginalized communities. Now Deal wants to revisit how to turn around 153 schools that have had failing test schools for three consecutive years — a rising trend that now affects nearly 89,000 students.“If this pattern of escalation in the number of failing schools does not change, its devastating effects on our state will grow with each passing school year,” Deal said during this year’s “State of the State.”Deal’s “Plan B” is still on the drawing board. For starters, though, he wants to give teachers a 2 percent raise in the upcoming budget. But expect anything else beyond that to focus on elementary school students first. How will that happen exactly? The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, following its poll that found voters mostly backed school choice, has reported school vouchers might be in the cards. But the plan’s supposed architect, State Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, has kept quiet on the matter to date.“There’s no magic silver bullet,” says Georgia Budget and Policy Institute senior education policy analyst Claire Suggs. “Just complex and hard work. There needs to be a conversation about the needs of these children, and how to best meet these needs. Whatever emerges should reflect that.”Though Deal has increased K-12 funding by $2 billion over four years, Suggs says the money is just one step toward fully restoring the more than $9 billion in austerity cuts made since 2003. Those funding cuts, state auditors found, have in turn forced college tuition costs to increase by 77 percent over a decade. Expect lawmakers to watch that debate closely: Not just because of its impact on tuition, but because casino backers, who say their foray into Georgia could save the HOPE Scholarship, might use it as a way to gain traction under the Gold Dome.
No value assigned

HEALTHLast summer, policy experts were crafting a plan to increase health insurance coverage to Georgians living on low incomes. In other words, it was an effort to expand Medicaid without expanding Medicaid.Those plans are now on hold, and potentially dead, now that Donald Trump is moving into the White House. With a promise to repeal and (maybe) replace the Affordable Care Act, state officials are now waiting to see what policy comes out of Washington, D.C. Deal said just as much during his annual “State of the State” address, warning lawmakers “against taking giant leaps on health care policy.”State reps and senators will instead focus on ways to keep hospitals from going broke and shutting their doors. First on the to-do list is giving the state department of public health the authority to continue collecting a fee — opponents call it a “bed tax” — hospitals pay. The fee helps generate roughly $900 million a year to fund Medicaid and PeachCare, the state’s insurance program for children living in poverty.Also up for consideration is an effort by state Rep. Geoff Duncan, R-Cumming, to improve a tax credit aimed at coaxing people to donate to rural hospitals. Duncan, who’s said to be considering a gubernatorial run in 2018, wants to increase the credit from 70 percent to 90 percent to make it more attractive.In addition, lawmakers will also consider whether making access to Naloxone, a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses, more readily available. Deal did so in an executive order but he’s asking the General Assembly to codify the measure. And state Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, is pushing to allow in-state cultivation of medical marijuana. State law is silent on how people can actually obtain the cannabis oil permitted in Georgia.


No value assigned


TRANSPORTATIONOn Jan. 10, House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, broached an idea that just 10 years ago would have been blasphemy to a Georgia Republican: The state would consider funding transit, an important mode of transportation that up until now has mainly been bankrolled by Atlanta, Fulton, and DeKalb counties and the feds.Granted, “considering” allocating cash toward rail and buses is not the same as actually doing it. But the fact that a North Georgia Republican would mention the possibility shows just how far transit, and MARTA, has come under the Gold Dome. After decades of shunning buses and rail as a viable option and demonizing MARTA as a crime-ridden money sump, lawmakers have taken notice. The fact that corporations want to relocate, and developers build, near transit stops, has helped.Last year the Legislature gave Atlanta the OK to ask voters to approve a sales tax to pay for a $2.5 billion expansion of MARTA in the city limits (they overwhelmingly agreed). This year the General Assembly might be asked to do the same for a $5.5 billion boost in unincorporated DeKalb and Fulton.Whether that happens during the next 40 days, or next year, depends on a variety of factors. DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond, new to the job, might first wish to clean up the dysfunctional county before asking residents to hand over more in taxes. There’s also the question over whether South Fulton leaders and North Fulton elected officials, some of whom have gone as far as pushing legislation denouncing MARTA rail, can agree.“I hope this will be another year we can build on our success,” says MARTA Board Chairman Robbie Ashe. “We’re very proud of the job MARTA CEO Keith Parker and his team have done and we think the recent election results make it crystal clear that when transit is on the ballot, transit wins. We believe the rest of Fulton and DeKalb deserve the same choice that Atlanta’s voters got.”In addition, lawmakers will once again weigh the pros and cons of creating a regional transit agency to wrangle metro Atlanta’s various transit systems, potentially allowing seamless transfers between buses and rail systems. Someone should tell them there’s already one up and running. Its name is MARTA.
No value assigned

RELIGIOUS FREEDOMState Sen. Josh McKoon isn’t letting last year’s failed attempt to pass a “religious freedom” bill — or contentious battles over the issue in other states — stop him from trying again. The Columbus Republican tells Creative Loafing he’s resurrecting the measure that critics say would pave the way for discrimination. But McKoon says this year’s version will be an easier pill to swallow than its predecessors.McKoon — or possibly one of his colleagues, he says — will drop a bill this week that will mirror the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act enacted in 1993 by President Bill Clinton. That measure “ensures that interests in religious freedom are protected.”Not surprisingly, the American Civil Liberties Union Georgia chapter Executive Director Andrea Young says the organization will not endorse a state-level RFRA. She says Georgia needs a comprehensive civil rights act replete with protections for all people. “The issue of civil rights needs to be looked at in its entirety,” she says.McKoon says the measure is not anti-LGBTQ. He claims his RFRA pitch last year, Senate Bill 129, caught flak and failed because it was lumped into legislation alongside the “Pastor Protection Act,” a statute that would have allowed religious institutions to deny services in cases that infringed upon their beliefs, such as performing same-sex marriages.McKoon this year is using the story of Nabila Khan, a Muslim Georgia State University student who was asked by a teacher to remove her face-concealing religious veil. Khan declined, and the university backed her up, according to the Signal, the school’s student paper. McKoon says SB 129 could have helped her situation, especially if Khan wound up facing charges for violating Georgia’s anti-mask code.“What about the next person who’s confronted by an authority figure, who doesn’t challenge that person?” McKoon says. Under a state-enforced RFRA, “the government, to enforce that criminal statute, would have to show a compelling state interest and show that this is the least restrictive means,” he says.
No value assigned
BUDGETNow that the part-time lawmakers have parked their horses outside the Gold Dome, they are required to do one thing before they head back to Americus and Zebulon: pass the damn budget! Deal says that task shouldn’t be too tricky considering Georgia has projected a revenue growth of 3.6 percent. From his dais last week, Deal unveiled Georgia’s $25 billion spending plans for the upcoming fiscal year — one of the largest in the state’s history.Yeah, yeah, yeah. Budget, how boring. What’s that cash being spent on? State troopers are getting a 20 percent pay hike to boost morale and lower turnover. (Don’t worry, teachers and child welfare social workers, the guv’s got your back, too.) There’s also more than $1 billion in cash for loans to fund construction for a new Georgia Supreme Court building, Georgia World Congress Center upgrades, and a fancy technical college near the governor’s home up in Hall County.
SON OF A GUN: State Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, plans to bring back his legislation allowing permitted gun owners to tote their shootin’ irons on campus.Joeff Davis

GUNSIt wouldn’t be a legislative session without bills expanding the number of places where people can carry guns. At least four pieces of firearm-related legislation are headed through this year, including the return of the controversial “Campus Carry” bill by state Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper.The bill, which Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed last year, would have allowed college students with carry permits at Georgia’s public universities to tote guns on campus.University System of Georgia officials, school leaders, gun-control advocacy groups, and concerned parents opposed the measure. This year it’s returning with the exact same language, the lawmaker tells CL.“I can carry my weapon if I take my 3-year-old to day care today,” Jasperse says. Why not a college campus?Democrats are likely to oppose the bill, and state Rep. Keisha Waites, D-Atlanta, is reviving her effort to require gun safety training for all firearm carry permit applicants. She likened a safety course mandate to a driver’s license test.“Think about the recent shooting we just had with the individual who was ex-military,” she says, referring to the Iraq war veteran who shot and killed five people in a Florida airport. “Can you imagine a scenario with a good guy with his weapon, but he can’t shoot it, he can’t load it, he knows nothing about it or how it puts the public at-large in danger?”But even Waites' benign proposal is too much for Second Amendment advocates. Both Jasperse and Jerry Henry, executive director of Second Amendment advocacy group Georgia Carry, say government-mandated training would be unnecessary and unconstitutional. U.S. citizens aren’t tested before becoming eligible to vote, they argue, and therefore shouldn’t be tested prior to exercising their rights.Another gun bill detested by Jasperse and Henry, filed in November by state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, aims to ban assault rifles as well as explosive ammo, high-capacity magazines, and silencers.“I want somebody to justify why a cop killer bullet should be sold,” Oliver says, citing the July attack on Dallas police officers, which was carried out by an Army vet wielding legally obtained weapons.
ATLANTA’S WISH LISTIn past years, most of the favors Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta City Council have asked state lawmakers to grant centered around getting the state’s OK to hike taxes on booze. Occasionally, you’d see a measure or two aimed at gun control that promptly went nowhere in the Republican-controlled Gold Dome.This year city officials want House reps and senators to tweak laws to help eradicate blight by allowing the city to move faster on getting rid of dilapidated properties it takes over (and tweaking the state’s eminent domain law to do so), keeping secret some records gathered by a citizen advisory group that hears complaints about police misconduct, and allowing earlier pour times at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Priorities!

CRAZY BILLSDo not rule out nonsense during the legislative session. In addition to debating whether casinos should be allowed in Georgia, lawmakers will also hear measures to aggravate immigrants by tacking a fee on wire transfers to other countries and withhold state funding from colleges that push back against immigration policies. Considering past years have brought us measures advocating for the state to ignore federal laws and bills that prohibit the involuntary implantation of microchips in people, the sky’s the limit.             20849514         http://dev.creativeloafing.com/image/2017/01/Outsidecover1_1_39.587fc7dc4504a.png                  2017 Legislative Preview "
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Article

Wednesday January 18, 2017 08:43 pm EST
Guns, health care and some good old-fashioned edumacation | more...
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  string(4964) "On a recent Friday night, Beverly Brown stood on a Peachtree Street sidewalk, just outside the Georgia Pacific Center, with a clipboard in her hand. For 30 minutes, she asked a twenty-something man a series of personal questions about his upbringing, aspirations, drug use, and sexual history.

??
The young adult, who identified himself as homeless, agreed to answer the questions in exchange for a $10 gift card, a granola bar, and a nylon bag filled with toothpaste, hand sanitizer, and condoms. These interactions, which have taken place dozens of times throughout the city this summer, is part of an ongoing Georgia State University study counting the number of homeless kids and young adults in Atlanta. Researchers say the segment has never properly been counted before.

??
"The majority of homeless youth are pretty upbeat," says Brown, a full-time Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contractor, who outside of her work is an undergraduate sociology student volunteering in the count. "They don't have a woe-is-me attitude. Some have a college education, some have goals, and they're used to working. ... They're not all on drugs, as is the perception for the homeless."

??
Once a year, officials conduct what's known as a Point-in-Time count to try to measure the number of homeless people staying in shelters and living on the streets. The annual effort is required to receive federal funding for homelessness services, which is partly allocated by the size of the homeless population. But local service providers believe the count underreports the number of unaccompanied homeless youth in Atlanta.

??
"There's just not enough information," GSU sociology professor Erin Ruel says. "Because we don't know, we can talk about what a big problem this is, but we don't have to do anything about it because we don't have enough of the knowledge we need in terms of services."

??
How big is the discrepancy? In 2014, Georgia officials documented about 1,000 unaccompanied youth between the ages of 14 and 25 throughout the entire state. According to GSU sociology professor Eric Wright, the architect of the homeless youth count, the number could be as high as 2,500 homeless youth in Atlanta alone, based on estimates received from service providers.

??
"Counting youth homelessness has always been an incredible challenge," Atlanta Deputy Chief Operating Officer Kristin Wilson says. "Point-in-Time counts and registries don't seem to end up with a good way of reflecting the youth population."

??
Because officials have long underestimated the problem, insufficient resources are available to help the city's homeless youth population. In addition, Wright says, overly restrictive state regulations, especially policies on reporting unaccompanied minors to Division of Family and Children Services, an effective pipeline to a foster home, limit the ability for homeless shelters to provide shelter space for at-risk youth.

??
"Service providers are nervous of the law coming down on them," Wright says. "It's created the problem of how to best deal with a kid who's 16 and on the street. When you add in the Bible Belt, kids who are sexually experimenting, or kids with patterns of sexual abuse in families, it's a very complicated, interrelated set of problems."

??
Local homeless advocate Marshall Rancifer says only about 150 beds in Atlanta are available for the city's homeless youth at shelters. According to Rick Westbrook, executive director of LGBTQ shelter Lost-N-Found, only about a dozen beds are available in Atlanta for the more than 750 homeless kids who either identify as LGBTQ or have a gender-fluid identity.

??
"The Point-in-Time count is supposed to capture that data for the federal government that determines how much money each state will get," Rancifer says. "You can't count Atlanta's homeless population in a day. ... This count needs to happen so better services can be provided and better policies can be practiced."

??
In response, Wright has brought together several-dozen students and outreach workers to conduct anonymous interviews with as many young adults who lack a "permanent stable residence" — a broader definition than homelessness, which also includes couch surfers and transient kids passing through the city.

??
In recent weeks, student surveyors have covered as much of the city as possible with service providers. In different shifts spanning all hours, the researchers have walked through Little Five Points, roamed past Midtown clubs, searched Downtown parking decks, and stopped at extended-stay hotels near highway stops.

??
Wright's team will compile a report before presenting its findings to the public later this year. Wright then hopes to pursue federal research funding, inform current shelters' programs, and educate officials on the importance of investing in "chronically underfunded" homeless youth services.

??
But before all that can happen, the uncounted must be counted."
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??
The young adult, who identified himself as homeless, agreed to answer the questions in exchange for a $10 gift card, a granola bar, and a nylon bag filled with toothpaste, hand sanitizer, and condoms. These interactions, which have taken place dozens of times throughout the city this summer, is part of an ongoing Georgia State University study counting the number of homeless kids and young adults in Atlanta. Researchers say the segment has never properly been counted before.

??
"The majority of homeless youth are pretty upbeat," says Brown, a full-time Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contractor, who outside of her work is an undergraduate sociology student volunteering in the count. "They don't have a woe-is-me attitude. Some have a college education, some have goals, and they're used to working. ... They're not all on drugs, as is the perception for the homeless."

??
Once a year, officials conduct what's known as a Point-in-Time count to try to measure the number of homeless people staying in shelters and living on the streets. The annual effort is required to receive federal funding for homelessness services, which is partly allocated by the size of the homeless population. But local service providers believe the count underreports the number of unaccompanied homeless youth in Atlanta.

??
"There's just not enough information," GSU sociology professor Erin Ruel says. "Because we don't know, we can talk about what a big problem this is, but we don't have to do anything about it because we don't have enough of the knowledge we need in terms of services."

??
How big is the discrepancy? In 2014, Georgia officials documented about 1,000 unaccompanied youth between the ages of 14 and 25 throughout the entire state. According to GSU sociology professor Eric Wright, the architect of the homeless youth count, the number could be as high as 2,500 homeless youth in Atlanta alone, based on estimates received from service providers.

??
"Counting youth homelessness has always been an incredible challenge," Atlanta Deputy Chief Operating Officer Kristin Wilson says. "Point-in-Time counts and registries don't seem to end up with a good way of reflecting the youth population."

??
Because officials have long underestimated the problem, insufficient resources are available to help the city's homeless youth population. In addition, Wright says, overly restrictive state regulations, especially policies on reporting unaccompanied minors to Division of Family and Children Services, an effective pipeline to a foster home, limit the ability for homeless shelters to provide shelter space for at-risk youth.

??
"[Service] providers are nervous of the law coming down on them," Wright says. "It's created the problem of how to best deal with a kid who's 16 and on the street. When you add in the Bible Belt, kids who are sexually experimenting, or kids with patterns of sexual abuse in families, it's a very complicated, interrelated set of problems."

??
Local homeless advocate Marshall Rancifer says only about 150 beds in Atlanta are available for the city's homeless youth at shelters. According to Rick Westbrook, executive director of LGBTQ shelter Lost-N-Found, only about a dozen beds are available in Atlanta for the more than 750 homeless kids who either identify as LGBTQ or have a gender-fluid identity.

??
"The Point-in-Time count is supposed to capture that data for the federal government that determines how much money each state will get," Rancifer says. "You can't count Atlanta's homeless population in a day. ... This count needs to happen so better services can be provided and better policies can be practiced."

??
In response, Wright has brought together several-dozen students and outreach workers to conduct anonymous interviews with as many young adults who lack a "permanent stable residence" — a broader definition than homelessness, which also includes couch surfers and transient kids passing through the city.

??
In recent weeks, student surveyors have covered as much of the city as possible with service providers. In different shifts spanning all hours, the researchers have walked through Little Five Points, roamed past Midtown clubs, searched Downtown parking decks, and stopped at extended-stay hotels near highway stops.

??
Wright's team will compile a report before presenting its findings to the public later this year. Wright then hopes to pursue federal research funding, inform current shelters' programs, and educate officials on the importance of investing in "chronically underfunded" homeless youth services.

??
But before all that can happen, the uncounted must be counted."
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  string(5245) "    GSU researchers conduct homeless youth count in hopes of increasing services for at-risk population   2015-07-29T08:00:00+00:00 Counting the uncounted   Max Blau Max Blau 2015-07-29T08:00:00+00:00  On a recent Friday night, Beverly Brown stood on a Peachtree Street sidewalk, just outside the Georgia Pacific Center, with a clipboard in her hand. For 30 minutes, she asked a twenty-something man a series of personal questions about his upbringing, aspirations, drug use, and sexual history.

??
The young adult, who identified himself as homeless, agreed to answer the questions in exchange for a $10 gift card, a granola bar, and a nylon bag filled with toothpaste, hand sanitizer, and condoms. These interactions, which have taken place dozens of times throughout the city this summer, is part of an ongoing Georgia State University study counting the number of homeless kids and young adults in Atlanta. Researchers say the segment has never properly been counted before.

??
"The majority of homeless youth are pretty upbeat," says Brown, a full-time Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contractor, who outside of her work is an undergraduate sociology student volunteering in the count. "They don't have a woe-is-me attitude. Some have a college education, some have goals, and they're used to working. ... They're not all on drugs, as is the perception for the homeless."

??
Once a year, officials conduct what's known as a Point-in-Time count to try to measure the number of homeless people staying in shelters and living on the streets. The annual effort is required to receive federal funding for homelessness services, which is partly allocated by the size of the homeless population. But local service providers believe the count underreports the number of unaccompanied homeless youth in Atlanta.

??
"There's just not enough information," GSU sociology professor Erin Ruel says. "Because we don't know, we can talk about what a big problem this is, but we don't have to do anything about it because we don't have enough of the knowledge we need in terms of services."

??
How big is the discrepancy? In 2014, Georgia officials documented about 1,000 unaccompanied youth between the ages of 14 and 25 throughout the entire state. According to GSU sociology professor Eric Wright, the architect of the homeless youth count, the number could be as high as 2,500 homeless youth in Atlanta alone, based on estimates received from service providers.

??
"Counting youth homelessness has always been an incredible challenge," Atlanta Deputy Chief Operating Officer Kristin Wilson says. "Point-in-Time counts and registries don't seem to end up with a good way of reflecting the youth population."

??
Because officials have long underestimated the problem, insufficient resources are available to help the city's homeless youth population. In addition, Wright says, overly restrictive state regulations, especially policies on reporting unaccompanied minors to Division of Family and Children Services, an effective pipeline to a foster home, limit the ability for homeless shelters to provide shelter space for at-risk youth.

??
"Service providers are nervous of the law coming down on them," Wright says. "It's created the problem of how to best deal with a kid who's 16 and on the street. When you add in the Bible Belt, kids who are sexually experimenting, or kids with patterns of sexual abuse in families, it's a very complicated, interrelated set of problems."

??
Local homeless advocate Marshall Rancifer says only about 150 beds in Atlanta are available for the city's homeless youth at shelters. According to Rick Westbrook, executive director of LGBTQ shelter Lost-N-Found, only about a dozen beds are available in Atlanta for the more than 750 homeless kids who either identify as LGBTQ or have a gender-fluid identity.

??
"The Point-in-Time count is supposed to capture that data for the federal government that determines how much money each state will get," Rancifer says. "You can't count Atlanta's homeless population in a day. ... This count needs to happen so better services can be provided and better policies can be practiced."

??
In response, Wright has brought together several-dozen students and outreach workers to conduct anonymous interviews with as many young adults who lack a "permanent stable residence" — a broader definition than homelessness, which also includes couch surfers and transient kids passing through the city.

??
In recent weeks, student surveyors have covered as much of the city as possible with service providers. In different shifts spanning all hours, the researchers have walked through Little Five Points, roamed past Midtown clubs, searched Downtown parking decks, and stopped at extended-stay hotels near highway stops.

??
Wright's team will compile a report before presenting its findings to the public later this year. Wright then hopes to pursue federal research funding, inform current shelters' programs, and educate officials on the importance of investing in "chronically underfunded" homeless youth services.

??
But before all that can happen, the uncounted must be counted.             13083877 14983910                          Counting the uncounted "
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Wednesday July 29, 2015 04:00 am EDT
GSU researchers conduct homeless youth count in hopes of increasing services for at-risk population | more...
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  string(5341) "One summer afternoon in 2012, I walked into a building off Marietta Street, rode the elevator up to the third floor, and sat down in the offices of a man named Harvey Newman. Over the course of an hour, the retired Georgia State University public policy professor walked me through the highlights and lowlights of Atlanta's 1996 Summer Olympics and the international games' lasting legacy 16 years later.

??
The conversation ended up being more of a history lesson than a formal interview. But it helped inform my first Creative Loafing cover story. Unbeknownst to me, it would land me a job as CL's news staff writer, requiring my immersion in all things Atlanta.

??
During my first six years in Atlanta, I had not attended any neighborhood meetings, stepped inside the bowels of City Hall, or stayed up to midnight for Sine Die. Like many transplants, I was slow to get my bearings straight in an unfamiliar city and watched as other people played more active roles within its 132 square miles.

??
Months after I joined CL's staff, Newman penned a guest column about the importance of voting in local elections, in which he recalled six words of advice he used to share with his students: Citizenship is not a spectator sport. As a staff writer, my assignments have afforded me the privilege of learning that lesson firsthand. It set me on an irreversible path toward civic engagement.

??
You don't have to be a reporter, a lawmaker, a lobbyist, or even a lifelong Atlantan to help shape this city. We have the ability impact the city's 242 neighborhoods in a way that's rarely possible in large American cities. In Atlanta, an aspiring urban planner can turn an ambitious thesis into a multi-billion-dollar public project, a public defender can become a MacArthur Genius for raising the criminal justice system's standards, and a college student can help spark the rebirth of a dormant civil rights movement.

??
More of that participation is needed. In recent years, officials have expanded transit, developers have erected high-rise condos, and corporations have relocated from the suburbs to the city — all in the name of future generations. Yet the men and women for which they build aren't always involved in guiding that vision.

??
Despite our collective interests, too many of us sit on the sidelines. Empty chairs frequently outnumber citizens and activists at City Hall. Voter turnout is abysmal: About a third of registered voters cast a ballot in Georgia's 2014 gubernatorial election and less than 5 percent mashed screens to decide if Atlanta officials should spend $250 million on road and bridge repairs.

??
Atlanta has long held onto dreams of becoming a world-class city, one worthy of international praise, glorious rankings, and shiny awards. But cut through the well-rehearsed narratives of City Hall and booster groups, and it's not hard to see a struggling city that has miles to travel before achieving that vision. We're a city with the nation's widest income inequality gap, in a region with struggling schools and an antiquated transportation system, in a state more focused on protecting the right to bear arms rather than the right to carry an insurance card.

??
Despite those realities, there's enough zealous civic participation to remain hopeful. Sure, not all preservation efforts have succeeded. But structures like the Atlanta Daily World and Historic Trio buildings still stand. A woefully outdated zoning code continues to undermine smart development. Yet packed zoning review board meetings can help prevent the wrong kind of big-box store from rising next to a transformative project like the Beltline. Eleven years after Georgia banned same-sex marriage, LGBT activists have fought back against further discriminatory laws and made some small gains toward equality, a once-unthinkable victory in the heart of the Bible Belt.

??
For Atlanta to overcome its struggles, we each need to take action. Don't wait for the right moment: start a blog, voice your concerns at a meeting, or raise hell at a protest. Your actions will not go unnoticed. Atlanta is not a city where noise drowns out its participants. It's a place where the participation of newcomers is acknowledged and embraced. Those who have stayed the course — civil rights activists like Rev. Joseph Lowery, neighborhood leaders like Mother Mamie Moore, and cultural ambassadors like Baton Bob — become revered figures in their respective communities.

??
Over the next few months, Atlanta residents will be able to weigh in important debates over the city's housing policy — here's your chance to do something about affordability — and vote on the financial stability of its public schools. Atlantans will also have the opportunity to elect a new mayor and councilmembers in 2017. Residents have no shortage of moments to play a vital role on these issues or in elections. But are they willing to do so?

??
Though this is my final week at CL — I'll be headed to Atlanta magazine — it won't be my last as a journalist documenting Atlanta's continued evolution, for better and for worse. After a slow start to my own civic participation, I found my role in a city attempting to become something bigger, whatever that might look like. For those of you sitting on the sidelines, it's not too late to help shape the city."
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??
The conversation ended up being more of a history lesson than a formal interview. But it helped inform [http://clatl.com/atlanta/atlantas-olympic-legacy/Content?oid=5849123|my first ''Creative Loafing'' cover story]. Unbeknownst to me, it would land me a job as ''CL'''s news staff writer, requiring my immersion in all things Atlanta.

??
During my first six years in Atlanta, I had not attended any neighborhood meetings, stepped inside the bowels of City Hall, or stayed up to midnight for Sine Die. Like many transplants, I was slow to get my bearings straight in an unfamiliar city and watched as other people played more active roles within its 132 square miles.

??
Months after I joined ''CL'''s staff, Newman penned a guest column about the [http://clatl.com/atlanta/want-to-change-the-city-go-vote/Content?oid=9602654|importance of voting in local elections], in which he recalled six words of advice he used to share with his students: Citizenship is not a spectator sport. As a staff writer, my assignments have afforded me the privilege of learning that lesson firsthand. It set me on an irreversible path toward civic engagement.

??
You don't have to be a reporter, a lawmaker, a lobbyist, or even a lifelong Atlantan to help shape this city. We have the ability impact the city's 242 neighborhoods in a way that's rarely possible in large American cities. In Atlanta, an [http://clatl.com/atlanta/the-little-beltline-that-could/Content?oid=1259904|aspiring urban planner] can turn an ambitious thesis into a multi-billion-dollar public project, a [http://clatl.com/atlanta/jonathan-rapping-the-defender/Content?oid=13049464|public defender] can become a MacArthur Genius for raising the criminal justice system's standards, and a [http://clatl.com/atlanta/a-year-and-some-change/Content?oid=14748867|college student] can help spark the rebirth of a dormant civil rights movement.

??
More of that participation is needed. In recent years, officials have expanded transit, developers have erected high-rise condos, and corporations have relocated from the suburbs to the city — all [http://clatl.com/atlanta/stick-around-millennials/Content?oid=13546470|in the name of future generations]. Yet the men and women for which they build aren't always involved in guiding that vision.

??
Despite our collective interests, too many of us sit on the sidelines. Empty chairs frequently outnumber citizens and activists at City Hall. Voter turnout is abysmal: [http://www.southernstudies.org/2014/11/midterm-voter-turnout-drops-in-the-south.html|About a third] of registered voters cast a ballot in Georgia's 2014 gubernatorial election and [http://clatl.com/freshloaf/archives/2015/03/17/atlantans-approve-250-million-bond-package-to-fix-roads-bridges-and-sidewalks|less than 5 percent] mashed screens to decide if Atlanta officials should spend $250 million on road and bridge repairs.

??
Atlanta has long held onto dreams of becoming a [http://clatl.com/atlanta/atlantas-not-a-world-class-city/Content?oid=11821628|world-class city], one worthy of international praise, glorious rankings, and shiny awards. But cut through the well-rehearsed narratives of City Hall and booster groups, and it's not hard to see a struggling city that has miles to travel before achieving that vision. We're a city with the nation's [http://clatl.com/freshloaf/archives/2015/03/17/atlanta-once-again-the-nations-leader-in-income-inequality|widest income inequality gap], in a region with struggling schools and an antiquated transportation system, in a state more focused on protecting the [http://clatl.com/atlanta/big-ol-gun-bill-a-big-ol-waste-of-time/Content?oid=10845483|right to bear arms] rather than the [http://www.politifact.com/georgia/statements/2014/feb/03/raphael-warnock/ranks-uninsured-high-georgia/|right to carry an insurance card].

??
Despite those realities, there's enough zealous civic participation to remain hopeful. Sure, not all preservation efforts have succeeded. But structures like the ''[http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/morning_call/2015/03/historic-atlanta-daily-world-building-saved-and.html|Atlanta Daily World]'' and [https://www.facebook.com/triolaundry?fref=nf|Historic Trio] buildings still stand. A woefully outdated zoning code continues to undermine smart development. Yet packed zoning review board meetings can help prevent the [http://clatl.com/freshloaf/archives/2014/08/02/fuqua-kroger-not-walmart-will-be-the-glenwood-park-developments-anchor-tenant|wrong kind of big-box store] from rising next to a transformative project like the Beltline. Eleven years after Georgia banned same-sex marriage, LGBT activists have fought back against further discriminatory laws and made some small gains toward equality, a once-unthinkable victory in the heart of the Bible Belt.

??
For Atlanta to overcome its struggles, we each need to take action. Don't wait for the right moment: start a blog, voice your concerns at a meeting, or raise hell at a protest. Your actions will not go unnoticed. Atlanta is not a city where noise drowns out its participants. It's a place where the participation of newcomers is acknowledged and embraced. Those who have stayed the course — civil rights activists like Rev. Joseph Lowery, neighborhood leaders like Mother Mamie Moore, and cultural ambassadors like Baton Bob — become revered figures in their respective communities.

??
Over the next few months, Atlanta residents will be able to weigh in important debates over the city's [http://clatl.com/freshloaf/archives/2015/05/19/city-hall-crafting-plan-requiring-new-housing-to-include-affordable-units|housing policy] — here's your chance to do something about affordability — and vote on the [http://clatl.com/atlanta/bond-or-bust/Content?oid=14322671|financial stability of its public schools]. Atlantans will also have the opportunity to [http://clatl.com/freshloaf/archives/2015/03/16/cathy-woolard-margaret-kaiser-kick-off-2017-mayoral-race|elect a new mayor and councilmembers] in 2017. Residents have no shortage of moments to play a vital role on these issues or in elections. But are they willing to do so?

??
Though this is my final week at ''CL'' — I'll be headed to ''Atlanta'' magazine — it won't be my last as a journalist documenting Atlanta's continued evolution, for better and for worse. After a slow start to my own civic participation, I found my role in a city attempting to become something bigger, whatever that might look like. For those of you sitting on the sidelines, it's not too late to help shape the city."
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  string(5631) "    Too many Atlantans sit on the sidelines when it comes to shaping the city. That needs to change.   2015-07-22T08:00:00+00:00 Opinion - Don't be a tourist   Max Blau Max Blau 2015-07-22T08:00:00+00:00  One summer afternoon in 2012, I walked into a building off Marietta Street, rode the elevator up to the third floor, and sat down in the offices of a man named Harvey Newman. Over the course of an hour, the retired Georgia State University public policy professor walked me through the highlights and lowlights of Atlanta's 1996 Summer Olympics and the international games' lasting legacy 16 years later.

??
The conversation ended up being more of a history lesson than a formal interview. But it helped inform my first Creative Loafing cover story. Unbeknownst to me, it would land me a job as CL's news staff writer, requiring my immersion in all things Atlanta.

??
During my first six years in Atlanta, I had not attended any neighborhood meetings, stepped inside the bowels of City Hall, or stayed up to midnight for Sine Die. Like many transplants, I was slow to get my bearings straight in an unfamiliar city and watched as other people played more active roles within its 132 square miles.

??
Months after I joined CL's staff, Newman penned a guest column about the importance of voting in local elections, in which he recalled six words of advice he used to share with his students: Citizenship is not a spectator sport. As a staff writer, my assignments have afforded me the privilege of learning that lesson firsthand. It set me on an irreversible path toward civic engagement.

??
You don't have to be a reporter, a lawmaker, a lobbyist, or even a lifelong Atlantan to help shape this city. We have the ability impact the city's 242 neighborhoods in a way that's rarely possible in large American cities. In Atlanta, an aspiring urban planner can turn an ambitious thesis into a multi-billion-dollar public project, a public defender can become a MacArthur Genius for raising the criminal justice system's standards, and a college student can help spark the rebirth of a dormant civil rights movement.

??
More of that participation is needed. In recent years, officials have expanded transit, developers have erected high-rise condos, and corporations have relocated from the suburbs to the city — all in the name of future generations. Yet the men and women for which they build aren't always involved in guiding that vision.

??
Despite our collective interests, too many of us sit on the sidelines. Empty chairs frequently outnumber citizens and activists at City Hall. Voter turnout is abysmal: About a third of registered voters cast a ballot in Georgia's 2014 gubernatorial election and less than 5 percent mashed screens to decide if Atlanta officials should spend $250 million on road and bridge repairs.

??
Atlanta has long held onto dreams of becoming a world-class city, one worthy of international praise, glorious rankings, and shiny awards. But cut through the well-rehearsed narratives of City Hall and booster groups, and it's not hard to see a struggling city that has miles to travel before achieving that vision. We're a city with the nation's widest income inequality gap, in a region with struggling schools and an antiquated transportation system, in a state more focused on protecting the right to bear arms rather than the right to carry an insurance card.

??
Despite those realities, there's enough zealous civic participation to remain hopeful. Sure, not all preservation efforts have succeeded. But structures like the Atlanta Daily World and Historic Trio buildings still stand. A woefully outdated zoning code continues to undermine smart development. Yet packed zoning review board meetings can help prevent the wrong kind of big-box store from rising next to a transformative project like the Beltline. Eleven years after Georgia banned same-sex marriage, LGBT activists have fought back against further discriminatory laws and made some small gains toward equality, a once-unthinkable victory in the heart of the Bible Belt.

??
For Atlanta to overcome its struggles, we each need to take action. Don't wait for the right moment: start a blog, voice your concerns at a meeting, or raise hell at a protest. Your actions will not go unnoticed. Atlanta is not a city where noise drowns out its participants. It's a place where the participation of newcomers is acknowledged and embraced. Those who have stayed the course — civil rights activists like Rev. Joseph Lowery, neighborhood leaders like Mother Mamie Moore, and cultural ambassadors like Baton Bob — become revered figures in their respective communities.

??
Over the next few months, Atlanta residents will be able to weigh in important debates over the city's housing policy — here's your chance to do something about affordability — and vote on the financial stability of its public schools. Atlantans will also have the opportunity to elect a new mayor and councilmembers in 2017. Residents have no shortage of moments to play a vital role on these issues or in elections. But are they willing to do so?

??
Though this is my final week at CL — I'll be headed to Atlanta magazine — it won't be my last as a journalist documenting Atlanta's continued evolution, for better and for worse. After a slow start to my own civic participation, I found my role in a city attempting to become something bigger, whatever that might look like. For those of you sitting on the sidelines, it's not too late to help shape the city.             13083800 14930676                          Opinion - Don't be a tourist "
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Wednesday July 22, 2015 04:00 am EDT
Too many Atlantans sit on the sidelines when it comes to shaping the city. That needs to change. | more...
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*Joeff Davis/CL File
*
“This is real and the worst part of it — not unlike the Snowden incident, which I hope none of you have sympathy for him because we need to hang him on the courthouse square as soon as we get our hands on him — but just like we’re gonna lose American lives as a result of this breach."

?
In a response to a question about the nation's largest federal data breach, former U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, recently got a bit off track and said that Edward Snowden should be hanged for leaking NSA documents. (via Buzzfeed)

?
To save CL time from painstakingly documenting every comment people say, we've created 'Soundbites' to call attention to their remarks."
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*[http://clatl.com/atlanta/ImageArchives?by=1559825|Joeff Davis/CL File]
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?
In a response to a question about the nation's largest federal data breach, former U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, recently got a bit off track and said that Edward Snowden should be hanged for leaking NSA documents. (via [http://www.buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/retired-senator-and-intelligence-vice-chair-hang#.ki1825d8X|Buzzfeed])

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*Joeff Davis/CL File
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?
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Article

Tuesday July 21, 2015 10:42 am EDT

  • Joeff Davis/CL File

“This is real and the worst part of it — not unlike the Snowden incident, which I hope none of you have sympathy for him because we need to hang him on the courthouse square as soon as we get our hands on him — but just like we’re gonna lose American lives as a result of this breach."

?
In a response to a question about the nation's largest federal data breach, former...

| more...
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  string(1616) "Jamie Hood, an Athens man who faced charges for killing two police officers, was found guilty in the death penalty trial. Hood had made the rare decision to defend himself in front of a jury of his peers.

?
The Atlanta City Council has postponed the approval of a contract that would have equipped the bulk of Atlanta Police officers with body cameras. Concerns arose at the last minute over the vendor tapped to receive the contract.

?
Why has Buckhead investor Rick Warren, the owner of nearly 10 percent of homes in English Avenue, gone back on a five-figure donation to help a community jobs program? Legal fees.

?
Ashley Diamond, a transgender inmate being held in a Milledgeville state prison, has filed a lawsuit against the Georgia Department of Corrections for failing to stop multiple rapes behind bars and denying her hormonal treatment.

?
The controversial plan to build the Palmetto Pipeline, a 210-mile-long pipeline allowing Texas firm Kinder Morgan to transport oil from South Carolina to Florida, is facing strong opposition from business execs, politicians, and environmental advocates.

?
A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report has found that less than 15 percent of Americans eat enough fruit, while only 8.9 percent eat an appropriate amount of vegetables.

?
In Hixson, Tenn., the same suburb where Chattanooga shooter Mohammad Abdulazeez lived, ISIS recruited a 29-year-old American woman named Ariel Bradley. “It was like, when I first met her she was a Christian, and then she was a socialist, and then she was an atheist, and then a Muslim," one friend told Buzzfeed."
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?
The Atlanta City Council [http://www.11alive.com/story/news/2015/07/21/atlanta-police-body-cameras/30449583/|has postponed the approval of a contract] that would have equipped the bulk of Atlanta Police officers with body cameras. Concerns arose at the last minute over the vendor tapped to receive the contract.

?
Why has Buckhead investor Rick Warren, the owner of nearly 10 percent of homes in English Avenue, gone back on a five-figure donation to help a community jobs program? [http://investigations.blog.ajc.com/2015/07/20/buckhead-real-estate-investor-reneges-on-donation-to-struggling-neighborhood/|Legal fees].

?
Ashley Diamond, a transgender inmate being held in a Milledgeville state prison, [http://www.macon.com/2015/07/19/3850369_report-transgender-georgia-inmate.html?rh=1|has filed a lawsuit] against the Georgia Department of Corrections for failing to stop multiple rapes behind bars and denying her hormonal treatment.

?
The controversial plan to build the Palmetto Pipeline, a 210-mile-long pipeline allowing Texas firm Kinder Morgan to transport oil from South Carolina to Florida, [http://specialprojects.myajc.com/palmetto-pipeline-georgia/|is facing strong opposition] from business execs, politicians, and environmental advocates.

?
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?
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The Atlanta City Council has postponed the approval of a contract that would have equipped the bulk of Atlanta Police officers with body cameras. Concerns arose at the last minute over the vendor tapped to receive the contract.

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Article

Tuesday July 21, 2015 09:02 am EDT

Jamie Hood, an Athens man who faced charges for killing two police officers, was found guilty in the death penalty trial. Hood had made the rare decision to defend himself in front of a jury of his peers.

?
The Atlanta City Council has postponed the approval of a contract that would have equipped the bulk of Atlanta Police officers with body cameras. Concerns arose at the last minute over the...

| more...
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