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Who should fill DeKalb County's long-vacant District 5 commission seat?

Image

  • Courtesy Mereda Davis Johnson, George Turner
  • Either Mereda Davis Johnson and George Turner will be DeKalb County's next District 5 commissioner.

Before next week is over, DeKalb County residents who live in District 5 — the southeast part of the county that spans from around I-20 and I-285 past Lithonia — will have a new representative fighting for them at county commission meetings. For the approximately 140,000 people who live in the district, the election is of particular importance given their lack of full representation over the past two years.

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Following the indictment of DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, Interim CEO Lee May had refused to vacate his District 5 seat, well after Gov. Nathan Deal appointed him to the top county spot in July 2013. On multiple occasions, DeKalb commissioners squabbled over naming a temporary replacement so that May wouldn't occupy two positions. Amid pressure, May resigned in early May from his original southeast DeKalb post, paving the way for a special election.

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Ten candidates entered the highly contested special election. Out of the crowded field, longtime family law attorney Mereda Davis Johnson and retired MARTA manager George Turner received enough votes to advance to a runoff scheduled for July 14.

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Davis Johnson is making her first bid for elected office after a lifetime filled with politics that includes registering voters with her father when she was young and working behind the scenes with the political career of her husband, longtime Congressman Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia. She never considered running until hearing about the commission's vacant seat.

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"I couldn't sit on the sidelines and hope for change," Davis Johnson says. "We have not had representation for the last two years. It clearly, clearly shows in the fifth district."

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Davis Johnson, who received 27 percent of the vote in the May election, says the district needs to take care of beautification issues like picking up litter in the streets or paving potholes to help spur future economic development. She also says her experience running a law firm, where she's been a good financial steward of that business, will help restore potential investors' confidence following the county's ethics scandal.

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"The work on ethics starts from the top-down, not from the bottom-up," she says. "We, as leaders of DeKalb, have to set the example for others. You can't use taxpayers' money for personal expenses, that's just common sense. ... You need transparency and oversight."

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Turner, a longtime resident who won nearly 16 percent of the vote, has recently focused much of his energy on volunteering in several neighborhood groups and at the Gold Dome, where he's helped state Sen. Ronald Ramsey, D-Lithonia. He says his past experience working on MARTA budgets will help him as a potential DeKalb commissioner.

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"I'm available," Turner says. "I have the time, I have the will, and I have skill. I've proven that I'll serve whether I'm elected or not. I'm not using this as a stepping stone. Those who voted for me, and know me, know I want to serve DeKalb and not myself."

?
If elected, he says, District 5 would need to revisit how it handles zoning, code enforcement, and public safety. Like Davis Johnson, he'd someday like to see greater economic development in the area, including a revitalized Stonecrest Mall. But first, he says, DeKalb needs to start getting residents to believe in the county's vision rather than eye the formation of new cities.

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"We don't have a voice in the fight," he says. "They're seeing the services are being received from the county without a commissioner. … So they're taking it into their own hands. If you had a strong commissioner in that area, a city might not be necessary."

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The winner of the District 5 race will likely be chosen by a small number of residents. Despite the complaints over the area's lack of representation, only 4,554 residents — about 5.5 percent of the district's registered voters — cast ballots in the May election. Keep in mind, of course, that voter turnout in runoffs is typically worse than general elections.



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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.
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."
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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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  string(4966) "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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  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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  string(6984) "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 [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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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