The Georgia House voted 173 – 0 Thursday morning to pass juvenile justice and civil code reforms that would dramatically change our response to young people who commit crimes, run away, violate probation or who are in desperate need of services. HB 242, the biggest rethink in Georgia juvenile strategies in decades, is a massive 244-page bill that would rewrite juvenile justice and civil code. Now the bill moves to the Senate. (Watch the House floor discussion and vote.)
Friday the House is scheduled to vote on HB 349, companion legislation for the adult system that would change the minimum mandatory sentencing laws for drug trafficking and other serious felony crimes. The bill would also create a new Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform that would conduct biennial adult and juvenile justice system reviews through June 2023.
Georgia’s juvenile code is a patchwork quilt of rules and regulations that all too often find the code at odds with itself and, at least, difficult to interpret. Two hundred page of HB 242 is the result of several years’ work by advocates and legislators. It would update code that in some instances dates back to the early 1970′s.
Juvenile justice reforms contained in HB 242 are the result of recommendations of the Governor’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform. Their recommendations are intended to hold offenders accountable, increase public safety and reduce the cost of the juvenile justice system.
Right now the state spends $300 million per year on the Department of Juvenile Justice, but more than half of juveniles who leave the juvenile justice system are convicted of a new offense within three years. In addition, nearly one in four youth in an out-of-home facility is adjudicated for low-level offenses, including misdemeanors or status offenses and approximately 40 percent of all juveniles in out-of-home placements are assessed as a low risk to offend.
The juvenile justice system reforms in HB 242 would focus the state’s out-of-home facilities on higher-level offenders and implement reforms focused on reducing the likelihood that juveniles will re-offend. Governor Nathan Deal has included $5 million in his Fiscal 2014 budget (plus an additional $1 million in federal funding) to expand community-based programs for these lower-risk offenders.
Many of these strategies are adopted from or build on ideas already implemented in states like Ohio, Texas, and Illinois that have proven effective. These states have lessons for Georgia.
Ohio committed to juvenile reforms in the 1990′s and almost two decades later Ohio has shown there is merit to focusing expensive state resources on the highest risk juveniles and providing community-based services for lower risk offenders. When Ohio began its reforms 20 years ago, the state’s juvenile custody population had increased 40 percent in the previous 13 years and their facilities were at 180 percent of capacity.
The state’s leaders decided to change course and created RECLAIM Ohio which provided fiscal incentives to build and use community-based options. Since creating this state / local partnership, the state’s juvenile custody population has dropped from more than 2,600 to about 650, the state has closed four facilities, and the state has reinvested more than $330 million back to communities to create more than 600 local programs. Most importantly, public safety has improved as the state has found that all but the very high risk offenders have lower recidivism rates in the community-based programs than in the secure facilities.
Illinois began a similar state / local partnership when it created Redeploy Illinois with 15 counties in 2005; four years later it expanded to 28 counties. “Philosophically, policy wise, system wise, Redeploy Illinois is exactly what we should be doing,” said John Maki, executive director of the Chicago-based John Howard Association that specializes in adult and juvenile justice system reforms.
There is no denying the benefit that participating counties have seen. Juveniles who were assigned to Redeploy Illinois have had a 17.4 percent re-arrest rate vs. 72 percent for youths sent to state facilities. Re-incarceration rates are also way down 14.2 vs. 57.2 percent.
“The goal of Redeploy was to be able to let counties craft their own evidence-based program to meet what they think their local needs are. To me, that is the genius of it,” Maki said. “I would love to see it expand, particularly in Cook County.”
Before Redeploy Illinois the state detained about 1,400 juveniles per day in secure custody; now it detains about 900. Two juvenile facilities are scheduled for closures that will save the state about $17 million per year. “I look at what is going on in our juvenile system as promising,” Maki said.
Texas earned a national reputation for adult criminal justice system reforms that began in 2007. The state was also aggressive with juvenile reform. As in Ohio and some Illinois counties, the emphasis is on focusing out-of-home facilities on higher-level offenders and providing more effective, and less expensive, community-based programs for lower-level offenders.
One thing that Texas did was to stop sentencing juveniles convicted of juvenile offenses to state facilities, something Ohio had also done long ago. In addition, the state created a fiscal incentives system for local probation departments similar to Ohio and Illinois. The Georgia Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform made the same recommendations for Georgia, and they are included in HB 242 and the Governor’s Budget Report.
Texas has seen positive results. Youths committed to Texas secure facilities declined from 3,000 in 2006 to about 1,000 today. Texas closed two youth facilities and saved $117 million. Today the state spends about $85.4 million per year on community programs and $41.7 m illion on juvenile secure detention facilities.
The Texas legislative budget office issued a report this year that analyzed the outcomes for adults and juveniles released from state custody in 2007 or 2008. Citing positive results, the report said Texas reduced youths in state secure facilities 67 percent since reforms, and juvenile arrests are down 18 percent compared to 13 percent nationally.
“Ohio, Illinois and Texas are showing the rest of the country that states can cut costs, cut crime, and put more youths on the right track to productive, law-abiding lives,” said Jeanette Moll, juvenile justice policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “It’s time for other states to start getting a better return on their investment in juvenile justice.”
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
Georgia would establish an ongoing criminal justice reform council to oversee adult and juvenile justice issues in the state as part of proposed sentencing and corrections legislation being considered by lawmakers this session.
In addition, adult criminal court judges would be allowed to depart from minimum mandatory sentences in a significantly small number of drug trafficking cases under legislation now before a House committee. Many of the provisions in HB 349 were developed by the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform. The Special Council’s juvenile justice recommendations are contained in HB 242.
This week will be important for both pieces of legislation. Tuesday afternoon, the House Judiciary committee members voted to pass HB 242 as expected. HB 349 had its first hearing Friday afternoon, and a second hearing is anticipated on Thursday.
The extension of the Council process that began two years ago provides a strong indication criminal that reforming Georgia’s criminal justice system and effectively implementing the new policies will remain a priority for at least ten years. The Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform was authorized by the 2011 General Assembly to focus on adults. Governor Nathan Deal used an executive order to keep the Council intact to focus on juveniles.
Under HB 349, a new Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform would be created for ten years through June 2023. As currently drafted, legislation stipulates the Governor would name five-of-15 members, including the chairman. Terms would be four years with possible reappointment. The judiciary, state agencies, sheriffs, prosecutors and public defenders would have representation.
The Council would conduct biennial adult and juvenile system reviews. It would have authority to retain outside consultants and it would be attached to the Governor’s Office for Children and Families for staff and funding.
This is the second consecutive year that the Special Council recommended that Superior Court judges should be allowed discretion from mandatory minimum sentences in a small number of drug trafficking cases. “Our drug statutes are very rarely capturing the kingpins who we were intending to capture. You’re generally capturing the mules,” Special Council co-chair and Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs told a House committee Friday afternoon.
Last year state prisons admitted 2,672 inmates who were convicted of drug trafficking. Fewer than 5 percent – 129 inmates – would have qualified for possible reduced sentences. Georgia law stipulates five-to-25-year minimum sentences based on the weight and type of drug. If enacted, changes would allow judges to reduce sentences and fines by up to 50 percent.
Defendants would be eligible for reduced sentences if they met all five requirements: A) No prior felony conviction; B) was not a ringleader of the conduct; C) did not use a weapon; D) the criminal conduct did not result in death or serious bodily injury to any victim; and, E) the judge determines justice would not be well served by imposing the minimum mandatory sentence.
“The bill does not abolish mandatory minimums for drug trafficking,” Boggs said. “All it does is set a lower minimum threshold that the judge could consider under appropriate circumstances. The judge is not required to deviate, only that the judge may.” (Click here to watch testimony.)
The bill also proposes more judicial discretion to minimum mandatory sentences for serious violent offenders, sexual offenders and repeat offenders. Criminal court judges could impose less than a minimum mandatory sentence upon agreement of the court, the prosecution and the defense. The legislation outlines several requirements that must be met for consideration.
HB 349 would change state law that requires prosecutors must prove a defendant “knowingly” trafficked drugs of a specific type and weight. If enacted as written, HB 349 says prosecutors would not be required to prove a drug trafficking defendant knew the weight of illegal drugs. Trafficking laws would become consistent with simple possession laws that passed last year.
Not everything in HB 349 originated with the Special Council. Prosecutors are pushing a change that would allow direct appeal to the Court of Appeals of Georgia or the state Supreme Court if a lower court excludes prosecutorial evidence submitted during pre-trial. An appeal above the trial court level could be triggered if prosecutors certify to the trial court that the excluded evidence is “substantial proof” in the case against the defendant.
Defense attorneys fear a virtually automatic evidentiary appeal to a higher court would delay trials. “The party who is going to suffer most would be an indigent person who cannot afford to make a bond,” McDonough attorney Scott Key said Friday, “because as that case is delayed that person may languish in the county jail, behind the wire and in the hard bed at the expense of the county taxpayers.” Key said long-term delays in molestation cases would potentially “worsen the trauma of the victim who has a pending case.” (Click here to view testimony.)
HB 349 would expand judicial protections to children who witnessed sexual contact or physical abuse against another child. Last year the state Supreme Court reversed a ruling from several years ago that said children who are witnesses are not afforded equal protections. HB 349 would take the 2012 Supreme Court opinion and enact it as law. (Click here to view testimony.)
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
Georgians will need a comfy couch, lots of time and perhaps some caffeine when they begin to read newly introduced juvenile justice and civil code legislation. Juvenile justice provisions in House Bill 242 include a proposal to completely revise the state’s 32-year-old juvenile designated felony act, a long overdue step forward, by creating two classes of more and less serious juvenile felony crimes.
Juvenile civil code revisions would update laws that govern how juvenile courts operate and the rights of minors in custody and other situations. The legislation is a comfy couch read at 244 pages. The juvenile justice sections closely follow the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform recommendations, which were released in December. Civil code updates, many years in progress, originated in HB 641 last year.
“We are light years from where we started from a political and a moral perspective in how we deal with criminal justice in this state for adults and juveniles,” said Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs who served as co-chair of the 2012 Special Council initiative. “We have become smarter in the way we address the enormous cost and the horrible return on investment that our taxpayers are receiving.”
Last year the General Assembly enacted adult corrections system reforms that are now being implemented statewide. This year lawmakers will focus on how to fund more juvenile program resources in local communities, reduce juvenile inmate populations, address mental health and substance abuse treatment challenges, reduce recidivism, and keep a lid on escalating costs.
Georgia’s 1981-version of the juvenile Designated Felony Act included fewer than one dozen crimes, the worst crimes committed by the scariest youth. Over more than three decades the Act was steadily expanded. What you have today is a Felony Act that treats accused juvenile murderers about the same as juveniles accused of smash and grab burglaries. Both are felony crimes.
HB 242 proposes to create a more serious “Class A” and less serious “Class B” structure that would give juvenile court judges greater latitude than they have today, especially in sentencing. Accused murderers and burglars would no longer be treated alike. The legislation is extremely detailed with specific crimes that would be considered more or less serious felonies.
If the bill is enacted as introduced, HB 242 would also prohibit the incarceration of status offenders and most juveniles adjudicated for misdemeanor crimes in secure facilities. Other provisions in the bill include focusing the state’s resources on programs proven to reduce recidivism, requiring the use of risk assessment tools, and mandating uniform data collection.
Governor Nathan Deal’s Budget Report also includes an additional recommendation from the Special Council – to create a performance incentive structure to reward jurisdictions with state funds when juvenile courts assign juveniles to community programs rather than incarcerate them in state facilities. These additional state funds will then be used to create programs in the community to treat juveniles locally.
“This is a very positive step,” said House Judiciary Chairman Wendell Willard, lead sponsor of HB 242. Governor Deal set aside $5 million in next year’s budget to expand community programs and jump-start new ones. Some 65 percent of juveniles who do time in secure state facilities are found guilty of a new crime within three years of their release. Willard said the state must try new ways to avoid creating “lifetime criminals. I think you will see a major savings in childrens’ lives.”
National studies including research compiled for Georgia by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project show that placement in out-of-home facilities does not lower the likelihood of juvenile reoffending and may in fact increase the likelihood of committing a new crime for some offenders. In fact, lock-ups sometimes produce a more sophisticated offender. This is more acute when youth require mental or substance abuse care.
Legislation proposes that youth adjudicated for a misdemeanor crime could not be sent to state confinement facilities. They would become candidates for community treatment programs. By enacting the recommendations of the Special Council, Georgia could reduce its juvenile inmate population by one-third to about 1,200, reinvest savings into local programs and save nearly $85 million over five years. The result would be lower costs and reduced recidivism – significant improvements for Georgia taxpayers.
Georgia’s juvenile code is considered antiquated, dating back to the early 1970s and subsequently patched over and re-patched many times. HB 242 would update current laws on dependency proceedings, family reunification, disposition of dependent children, mental health and other care for children in need of services, the emancipation of minors and more.
“We can do a better job of service to these children,” Willard said.
House Judiciary will hold a full committee hearing Thursday afternoon at the State Capitol. A small number of adult system reforms proposed by the Special Council in its 2012 report will be contained in separate legislation expected next week. Legislation passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Deal would become law on July 1.
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein declared the state is at a “crossroads in juvenile justice history” and challenged the General Assembly to expand mental health services for “clearly disturbed youngsters” during her final State of the Judiciary address, telling lawmakers, “We wait for the explosion and it will come” unless courts have more resources for dealing with juveniles who are clearly at risk to themselves and others.
Hunstein delivered her final State of the Judiciary Address to the General Assembly Thursday morning in Atlanta. Her term as Chief Justice expires later this year. Hunstein devoted a major section of her remarks to adult and juvenile justice system reforms. Legislators enacted the start of adult reforms in 2012; this year they will consider a large juvenile justice system bill.
“What does a judge do with a chronic runaway girl who comes before him with untreated mental health problems and a history of being sexually exploited while living on the streets? What does a judge do with the boy who repeatedly is charged with shoplifting but whose family is seriously dysfunctional?” Hunstein told lawmakers.
“Most juvenile judges say they do not want to send these children to locked facilities, but with no community resources and fearing for the children’s safety, they feel they have no alternative. As one juvenile judge recently wrote, without resources at home, detention becomes a default when the hammer is the only tool in the toolbox.”
Chief Justice Hunstein opened her 27-minute address with a summary of adult reforms that are underway based on recommendations made in 2011 by the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform. Diversion of non-violent offenders away from costly prison beds into alternative programs has enabled the state to slow the growth of its prison population. Hunstein said the state is “on track to save $264 million in five years.” Fewer state inmates are being held in county jails. Twelve new drug and mental health courts opened last along with several substance abuse and mental health treatment centers.
The Chief Justice also emphasized “the beginning of a new way of handling long-term inmates who have served many years – sometimes decades – in prison. The fact is that 95 percent of this state’s 57,000 prison inmates will eventually walk out of prison; only 5 percent will die there.” Last month state Pardons and Paroles began to assign “max-out” inmates to residential transition centers six months before their final release date.
“But the best measure of success is counted in the many individual lives that are being changed daily as a result of these accountability courts,” Hunstein said. She added, “I have been honored to receive personal letters from a number of the graduates. One graduate wrote: ‘On October 31, I went to court and regained full custody of my 6-year-old son, Nicholas. It was the happiest day of my life other than the day he was born. I am so grateful for the opportunity of giving back when I, for so long, took away.”
The General Assembly is waiting to see legislation that would dramatically realign the state’s juvenile justice system, completely rethink the antiquated juvenile civil code and, expected in a separate bill, put a few new tools into adult system reforms from last year.
“Today, we as Georgians – and as a nation – stand at a crossroads in juvenile justice history,” Hunstein told Senate and House members. “We have learned just as we did with adult criminal justice that cracking down on juvenile crime is not enough. We also must be smart about juvenile crime and take action to reduce it.”
Hunstein said based on average daily population, 2,000 youths are detained in youth long-term detention centers that are the equivalent of adult prisons, youth short-term detention centers or residential programs such as group homes. The Chief Justice said more than half committed non-violent offenses, 40 percent are considered low-risk and one-quarter were adjudicated for a misdemeanor or status offense that would not be a crime if committed by an adult.
The state spends $91,000 a year to incarcerate a juvenile in youth prison, vastly more than $19,000 spent per year to incarcerate an adult. Hunstein said, “The difference in cost is based on young people’s educational and other needs that must be met under state and federal laws.
“But consider the return we get on every dollar spent housing these juveniles: Of the 619 children in our youth prisons, nearly 65 percent will commit another offense within three years of getting out – and nearly every one of them will get out.
“We know one thing for certain: Spending $91,000 a year to lock up a juvenile and getting 65 percent recidivism is not working,” Hunstein said. “We can be smarter with taxpayer dollars. More importantly, we can produce a safer Georgia.”
Juvenile justice reform legislation is expected to emphasize expansion of community treatment options when incarceration is not required and would not benefit a juvenile. Governor Nathan Deal included a $5 million line item in next year’s budget to help jump start these programs.
Presiding Justice Hugh Thompson will succeed Hunstein as Chief Justice later this year.
(Click here to read Chief Justice Carol Hunstein’s complete address as delivered.)
(Click here to watch the State of the Judiciary video archive.)
(This article was republished by the Texas Public Policy Foundation.)
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
Each year Georgia law enforcement seizes millions of dollars in personal property from people who were never charged with or convicted of a crime. There was merely the suspicion that a crime had been committed, and that the property might somehow be connected to the crime that never happened.
The story gets worse for property owners. Georgia state law permits law enforcement agencies to sell the property and keep the proceeds. The exact dollar value is unknown because law enforcement agencies have largely failed to file required reports.
This is what the Institute for Justice (IJ) said about Georgia civil asset forfeiture policies in a new report released Wednesday:
“Georgia’s civil forfeiture system operates largely in the dark … Minimal reporting – and thus minimal oversight – combined with laws that stack the deck against property owners makes for a precarious situation for Georgia citizens … If citizens and lawmakers are to know how forfeiture is being used in the state, state law must demand more, better and more consistent reporting from all agencies.”
Last year the Georgia Public Policy Foundation joined the Institute for Justice to call on the state Legislature to examine this ongoing situation and to make reforms. No action was taken by lawmakers. House Bill 1 introduced this session preserves the authority of law enforcement to make these property seizures but the bill offers very little to help protect individuals.
The Institute for Justice report – “Rotten Reporting in the Peach State” — says in 2011 Georgia law enforcement agencies confiscated $2.76 million in personal property from persons who were not charged with a crime. About half of the property confiscated was worth less than $650, often cash. The exact value of all personal property confiscated by local law enforcement agencies is unknown because the majority of agencies did not file required state reports.
Federal law also allows law enforcement agencies to seize personal property. The incentive is high because federal and local agencies share sale proceeds which were at least $32 million in 2011 in Georgia. Here is a summary of key points from the IJ report:
- “Reports filed by 58 law enforcement agencies as of July 2012 for the year 2011 reveal $2.76 million in forfeitures. Half of the properties taken were worth less than $650.
- “By contrast, federal reports show 147 Georgia law enforcement agencies taking in more than $32 million in forfeiture revenue in 2011 through federal forfeiture procedures, making Georgia one of the most aggressive states in the nation for federal forfeiture.
- “Of those 147 agencies, 122 have not yet filed a state forfeiture report, even though at least 51 have published legal notices indicating they are also pursuing state forfeitures.
- “Many state reports that have been filed lack even basic details necessary for proper public oversight, such as what was taken and when, how much it was worth and what was done with the proceeds.”
The agencies that did file 2011 calendar year state reports seized $1.15 million in cash, $1.05 million categorized as “other” and $453,154 in cars. The federal program known as “equitable sharing” is an agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and local agencies to share in proceeds. Georgia’s portion of “equitable sharing” grew from $14.5 million in Fiscal Year 2000 to $32.5 million in Fiscal 2011. The total take during those dozen years: $250 million. The IJ report says, “The state’s total dwarfed the average of $8.8 million across all states.”
The report says Georgia civil asset forfeiture laws should require a criminal conviction before agencies could take title to assets and proceeds after sale, and impose a higher standard of proof on law enforcement to prove that an asset was connected to a crime. Also, the Institute says new laws should “Protect innocent owners by removing the burden on property owners to prove their innocence and instead placing the burden of proof on the government.” Several new requirements are proposed to standardize and improve what law enforcement agencies report.
Lee McGrath is legislative counsel at the Institute for Justice and he is co-author of the Georgia report. “Police and prosecutors should be chasing criminals, not profits, but allowing the law enforcement to keep the proceeds of forfeited property gives them a direct financial incentive to abuse their power,” said McGrath. “To remedy this problem, the Georgia state legislature must enact comprehensive forfeiture reform to protect private property.”
Learn more about civil asset forfeiture laws in these Institute for Justice videos on YouTube:
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
Discussion about mental health and other substance abuse treatment alternatives was front and center Wednesday when criminal justice system officials addressed House and Senate joint appropriations lawmakers at the State Capitol. “Mental health is a huge issue in all the things we do,” Judge Robin W. Shearer said on behalf of the Council of Juvenile Court Judges.
Georgia is in the early stages of significant adult and juvenile justice system reforms that focus on how to ensure incarceration for the most serious offenders, and how to provide community treatment options for offenders who do not benefit from or even require incarceration.
Last year the General Assembly passed reforms to move the adult corrections system toward those goals. This year legislators are expected to approve sweeping reforms to juvenile criminal law and the civil code. Governor Nathan Deal has made reforms a personal priority and his budget devotes millions of dollars to these goals.
The importance of mental health considerations was evident early in Wednesday’s hearing.
Adult corrections commissioner Brian Owens said the state has opened alternative treatment centers in seven rural judicial circuits and this year plans to open four-to-seven more. Two facilities were opened to treat “dually diagnosed offenders”; Owens described them as persons with mental illness who attempt to medicate themselves with legal prescriptions or illegal drugs. The state has also opened a new residential substance abuse treatment center for males.
These options give the state capability to treat about 5,000 non-violent offenders per year in community settings rather than prisons. “Georgia, I believe, is really at the forefront of dealing with criminal addiction (and) criminal mental health issues,” Owens said, “applying mental health resources in the community before offenders get too far down the road and we suffer a tragedy.”
Governor Deal’s Fiscal 2014 budget contains $11.6 million for the continued expansion of drug and mental health accountability courts for non-violent offenders who need community-based treatment more than they need incarceration; this builds on $10 million that Deal inserted for the same purpose into the Fiscal 2013 budget. Next year’s proposed budget also contains a $5 million line item to create incentives to start community-based juvenile treatment options.
That is good news for juvenile judges. “I welcome prevention dollars,” said Judge Shearer, who is president of the Georgia Council of Juvenile Court Judges and has been a juvenile court judge since 1993. Shearer said, “The pendulum of whether we emphasize prevention or penalties kind of swings back and forth. A prevention dollar is a dollar well spent.” Shearer noted, “We are seeing children from birth until they become adults.”
By the numbers, the state adult corrections system has some 57,500 inmates and 162,600 on felony probation. The budget is about $1.1 billion per year to support adult corrections. The annual per bed cost for an adult inmate is about $18,000, but that cost increases for older inmates who require more advanced health care.
This week the juvenile justice system, a separate entity, had 1,741 in secure confinement and 11,941 on community supervision. The juvenile justice department budget is $300 million. DJJ makes contact with about 52,000 juveniles per calendar year. The annual per bed cost for a committed juvenile is above $90,000, higher than adult incarceration cost for many reasons including, DJJ operates its own school system.
Those financial numbers do not tell a complete story. State pardons and paroles has a budget near $53 million. Juvenile system officials, including the juvenile courts, interact with many other state agencies, making it hard to determine exactly what the state directly spends on juveniles and their justice issues. The state easily spends $1.4 billion annually on adult and juvenile justice without factoring in even one cent of what it costs to run state and local courts.
Proposals from the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform — for adults and juveniles — focus on how to protect the public, reduce public expense and reduce recidivism, which is the percentage of juveniles who are re-adjudicated or adults convicted of a criminal offense within three years of their release. More than 50 percent of juveniles re-enter the justice system within three years and more than 30 percent of adults re-offend.
Owens said the number of state inmates being held in county jails is significantly down. Twelve months ago county jails held 900 males waiting for placement in a probation detention center. Today there are no males and about 200 females. That is important to local governments because the state does not reimburse counties for inmates who are waiting for probation detention center placement. “Our counties will save money,” Owens said.
Juvenile justice commissioner Avery Niles told legislators, “We have become an agency that deals with both youths and adults in a juvenile setting.” Niles was DJJ board chairman until two months ago when Governor Deal moved him to the commissioner’s office. Niles said that about half of juveniles who enter the corrections system have drug addictions. He described the overall population as “older, more aggressive and staying longer.” Ninety percent of youths in DJJ custody are now designated felons.
(This article was republished by Right on Crime, a project of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.)
Georgia’s ability to continue slow but steady economic growth might depend on factors beyond its control, including a “heroic assumption” that the federal government will somehow get its fiscal house in order. “If we can just solve things in Washington I think we will be ready to go,” state fiscal economist Kenneth Heaghney said Tuesday morning at the State Capitol.
Heaghney was largely upbeat and cautiously optimistic when he addressed House and Senate joint appropriations committee legislators. Slow growth is possible through 2017. Year-to-date year total tax revenue for six months ending in December was 4.9 percent, less than forecast. “Our revenue stream tends to be very volatile,” Heaghney said.
“Individual income tax is trending in the right way (year-to-date, up 5.4 percent) and underlying detail suggests an economy that is slowly improving,” Heaghney said. “Housing appears to have turned the corner both nationally and in Georgia. That takes away the severe negative that we saw in the early part of the recession and even in 2010.”
Evidence Georgia is rebounding includes: Individual and corporate income tax receipts continue to improve; existing home sales are trending up; several sectors report hiring growth, including manufacturing and trade; initial unemployment claims are down; and, the state’s 1.8 percent annual gross domestic product growth is better than the 1.4 percent national growth.
Heaghney predicted the Georgia private sector will create about 20,000 new jobs over the next six months and about 63,000 for the fiscal year that ends in June. With an eye on the “heroic assumption” that Washington can fix its fiscal house, Heaghney predicted job growth could pick up later this year, and, “In 2014 we could see much more rapid growth.”
Consumers have not fully bought into recovery. Heaghney said 2.7 percent current year state sales tax growth is “relatively slow” because consumer discretionary spending stalled due to a decline in disposable personal income. Heaghney predicted discretionary spending growth will continue to be soft after payroll taxes increased for everyone this month and higher income earners also saw their federal income tax rates go up because of the “fiscal cliff” agreement.
Washington is wrestling with several contentious fiscal issues: Mandatory across-the-board budget cuts that could be imposed under sequestration, the unresolved national debt level argument and a continuing resolution that must be passed so bills can be paid. The House will vote Wednesday on a Republican proposal to extend the debt limit discussion by several months in an attempt to work out budget disagreements and Senate Democrats say they will write a budget that further increases taxes.
Agreement reached on the so-called “fiscal cliff” less than four weeks ago now seems almost inconsequential. “We ended 2012 with a very small solution to the overall federal budget problem,” Heaghney said. “The part that was resolved results in higher taxes, payroll taxes and income taxes on high income people. We expect that to be a weight on consumer spending growth and investment growth, particularly in the first half of 2013 while people adjust to the new tax regime.”
Georgia’s pre-recession economy depended heavily on construction. Recession devastated builders and banks. Construction employment was down 18 percent two years ago so by that measurement, last year’s one percent decline is progress. New home construction permits have been trending up since mid-2011. The Atlanta region reported six consecutive months of price increases through November but prices have not rebounded to 2000-year levels.
“The caveat is that we still see very high foreclosure rates even though they are falling,” said Heaghney, “and mortgage delinquency rates are still high, although they are falling.” Heaghney said existing home sales are trending up because of investor group demand for rental property.
“That is the story behind the improvement in housing value that we’ve seen within the metro Atlanta area,” Heaghney said. “It seems they’ve got a lot of money to invest.” Individual buyers are still finding tough sledding. “It is very difficult for non-prime credit people to get a mortgage.” He predicted “a long slide” before the individual homeowner mortgage market loosens up.
Governor Nathan Deal began three days of hearings with brief remarks that recapped priorities in his $40.8 billion Fiscal 2014 proposed budget. The proposal includes $19.8 billion in state dollars and $21 billion in federal funds. Deal reminded legislators that state spending is down 17 percent in a decade and there are 9,000 fewer state employees than five years ago. Deal outlined his priorities last week at “Eggs and Issues” and in his State of the State address.
Appropriations committee hearings Wednesday morning will focus on the adult corrections and juvenile justice systems. All sessions are broadcast live on the House TV website.
Governor Nathan Deal has proposed a $19.864 billion state dollars budget for the new fiscal year that starts in July, up about 2.7 percent from this year’s $19.341 billion budget. The Fiscal 2014 proposed budget was released on the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget website while Deal delivered his State of the State address at the Capitol.
Total state spending next year would be about $40.837 billion with the other $21 billion being anticipated federal funding. The trend line here continues to be fiscal savings and a big emphasis on health care cost strategy. Nearly all state agencies were asked to cut their next year budgets by 3 percent and some by higher percentages.
Governor Deal devoted the bulk of his address to four policy areas – public safety, education, health care and economic development – but he ended with comments on ethics, stating, “If there is to be an expansion of the code of ethical conduct for members of the General Assembly, it should apply equally to all elected officials at the state and local levels.” The state Senate has passed one ethics bill and the House is expected to have a bill. However, Deal’s statement was significant in that he said ethics state law should apply to local officials.
Medicaid costs again dominated his health care comments. The Governor urged passage of his legislation that would authorize the state Department of Community Health board to continue that hospital provider fee that would otherwise sunset this June. “Unless this is done, there will be a shortfall in revenue to support the Medicaid program of nearly $700 million,” Deal said.
The so-called temporary fix to Medicaid expense was imposed by the 2010 General Assembly. Deal’s bill would transfer responsibility for continuing that fee to DCH board members, giving legislators a free pass. The fee would raise about $241 million next year, according to the Governor’s proposed budget. The Senate passed the bill 46 – 9 later Thursday; the legislation now travels across the Capitol to the House.
“Since we cannot adjust benefits, the reduction in reimbursements to hospitals would be the only way to keep the program solvent,” Deal told legislators. “These reductions would be approximately 20 percent, which would seriously jeopardize many of our state’s hospitals.” On Wednesday Deal said perhaps 12-to-14 hospitals would close if the fee is allowed to sunset.
The Governor’s address created no significant new policy sectors. Deal recognized “times have been tough” economically but he vowed, “I will not lead our state with a Doomsday mindset.” His proposed budget includes spending cuts of at least 3 percent for nearly all state agencies except K-12 public education. Selected state agencies begin three days of public budget hearings next Tuesday.
“Just as Georgia is too big and too important to fall prey to Doomsayers’ pessimism, it is also too big and too important to be divided by race, geography or ideology,” Deal said. “This year let’s concentrate on the things on which we can all agree.”
Three education announcements should encourage families: The Pre-K school year would be restored to 180 days, a 10-day increase over this year’s funding level, in the governor’s budget and Deal proposed a 3 percent funding increase to $600 million for the HOPE program. One year ago there were projections that HOPE was on a financial slide to insolvency. And, $147.3 million will be added to the K-12 education budget for enrollment growth and teacher training.
The governor said the state’s 28-year-old public education funding formula “does not meet the needs of a Twenty First century classroom,” and he added, “Georgia has had too many school boards under the sanctions of potential loss of accreditation.” Deal said reasons why school systems lose accreditation must be addressed by state legislation. “Poor outcomes are most often not the result of lack of money, but lack of vision and leadership,” the governor said.
Deal encouraged legislators to build on last year’s unanimous passage of adult corrections reforms and to adopt juvenile system reforms that would reduce incarceration expenses for non-violent youthful offenders. The state spends $300 million per year on juvenile justice. “Just as with last year, we stand to lower recidivism and save taxpayer dollars,” Deal said.
The governor said state economic development initiatives have produced 10,000 new jobs since his last State of the State address. He also said state per capita spending is down 17 percent within the last decade and state government now employs 9,000 fewer people than five years ago. “We have reduced the burden on Georgia taxpayers,” Deal said.
Deal said the state “rainy day fund” now has $378 million in cash reserves, which is a 226 percent improvement since Deal took office, and that has enabled Georgia to retain its Triple AAA bond rating. However the balance is well below pre-recession levels of about $1.6 billion.
The Governor proposed stronger DUI alcohol laws for boaters to bring them into line with drunk driving laws and mandatory life jackets for all persons 13 years old or younger who are riding in a boat or using a personal watercraft. Currently there is a great deal of national emphasis on gun control and public school safety, but Deal did not address either topic in his remarks.
Additional highlights from Governor Deal’s proposed budget:
- Increase basic K-12 education funding by more than $156 million.
- Increase Pre-K early care and learning funding by $12.9 million to $312 million.
- Increase K-12 equalization grants by $41 million for the poorest school districts.
- Increase university system funding by $84.6 million to fund growth.
- Increase university and technical college system capital investments by $247 million.
- Increase state funding by $50 million to $231 million for the Port of Savannah project.
- Increase state funding by $2 million to train health care career professionals.
- Commit $69.8 million to fully fund the state share of teacher retirement system.
- Commit $60 million to fund new transportation projects in FY 2013 and FY 2014.
- As promised earlier, end the user tolls paid by drivers on Georgia Route 400.
- Proposed $25.2 million in bond sales for water supply projects.
- Proposed $15 million in bond sales for Georgia World Congress Center upgrades.
- Proposed $26.5 million in bond sales for state parks and lands improvements.
What we know or can know about each other never ceases to amaze me and it constantly evolves. Netflix knows the movies we like. Amazon knows what we want to purchase. Websites target us with messages based on how we use websites. Even toddlers use the web for videos and games as they acquire skill sets that will be essential for learning and success.
The all-knowing online world will re-imagine and liberate learning. “Education used to be someplace you went to. You used to go to school to learn,” says John Bailey, executive director of Digital Learning Now! “Now all of a sudden learning can come to wherever the student is located.”
You’re probably not going to hear extensive legislative conversation about personalized digital learning during the 2013 General Assembly. One reason is two bills passed last year that will significantly alter the state’s blended and online learning footprint. The other reason is a digital learning deep water study is underway by a task force appointed by Governor Nathan Deal.
Senate Bill 289 established several goals. First, it said all public school students in grades three through 12 should have online learning options starting as early as the 2013 – 2014 school year. Second, all 2014 fall high school freshmen should enroll in at least one online learning course before graduation. Finally, the Senate bill struck down rules that enabled local districts to deny permission when students wanted to enroll in Georgia Virtual School (GAVS) courses.
House Bill 175 instructed state education officials to develop a clearinghouse of courses from public school districts and private sources. This could include GAVS state-developed courses, curriculum that Georgia local school districts develop, and also courses from private education companies, such as the Georgia Cyber Academy courses. The intent is to create an extensive library that would be available statewide to everyone through the DOE at no cost to students.
“Part of what we do is work with state lawmakers, with district leaders, with thought leaders, often being asked, where are the states we should be looking at?” said Bailey when he was in Georgia to address the Governor’s digital learning task force. “Often we are talking about the work you are doing here in Georgia.” Bailey is a former White House domestic policy advisor under President George W. Bush. He also worked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
This week the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement unveiled its new Digital Learning Task Force website. The site contains an exhaustive definition of digital learning, names of task force members, the task force public meeting schedule, a long list of digital learning resources and highlights from school districts that are considered out front of the curve. You can also find a new state Department of Education digital learning status report required by Senate Bill 289.
Thirteen task force members have been asked to make recommendations on access options, course considerations – who creates courses, who approves them, who pays for them? – and some significant infrastructure questions – which schools have the necessary technology and which do not, who pays for that technology, what is the private sector role in technology?
The task force is coordinated by Sam Rauschenberg, deputy director at the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. He told the Foundation, “Since improving digital learning in Georgia will take a team effort the report may also include recommendations for schools and districts on how to move the ball forward in digital and blended learning.”
Access, courses and infrastructure are three big essential pieces. Dig deeper and there is more at hand. What is the role of the traditional textbook in future learning; has the back-breaking book bag finally had its day? Who will teach the teachers how to teach this new model; how quickly can they be prepared? How do we prepare parents for learning that they never experienced? What is the future for competency-based learning that allows students to advance when ready? How do you create incentives that will make local schools want to participate in online learning models? And a very central question that will also be considered, what are the funding model options?
The development of an online courses clearinghouse is proceeding rapidly. About a dozen contributors including the Gwinnett and Forsyth school districts along with many private learning companies have submitted courses for review. State education officials are evaluating courses using national standards established by Achieve and iNACOL, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. Hundreds of courses could be posted online as early as next month.
“Once we have it ready we will show it to legislators and ask them, are there any showstoppers here?” said Bob Swiggum, chief information officer at the Department of Education. “If the answer is no we will probably open it up right on the DOE website as another tool.” Marketing will be word-of-mouth and via the DOE web; there is no paid marketing budget available.
During his presentation to task force members last month Bailey emphasized that students live in an era of customization whether they are interacting with video, music or nearly any other aspect of their lives. “The only place that is different is education where we ask kids growing up in a personalized world to fit into a cookie cutter model,” Bailey said. “That is a very frustrating disconnect. That is what’s leading to dropout rates; it’s leading to kids being unengaged.”
The next task force meeting is scheduled for 1:00 pm on Tuesday, February 5 in the fifth floor conference room at the Georgia Tech Research Institute adjacent to Georgia Public Broadcasting in midtown Atlanta. Discussion will focus on learning content. The task force will submit final recommendations to Governor Nathan Deal Office and to legislators before the 2014 General Assembly.
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
Governor Nathan Deal said the state Department of Community Health has been told to reduce its amended current fiscal year budget by 3 percent and then find 5 percent more in new cuts next year to help the state absorb Medicaid costs that continue to escalate. The state faces a Medicaid deficit that will approach $800 million during the next 18 months of its fiscal cycle.
Deal devoted nearly his entire speech to health care when he addressed the Georgia Chamber of Commerce annual “Eggs and Issues” breakfast Wednesday at the World Congress Center in Atlanta. The Governor also suggested folks who cannot attend Thursday morning’s State of the State address should monitor his “Tweeter” account. Deal will announce his budget during the speech, scheduled for 11:00 a.m. at the State Capitol.
“Georgians who have already received a paycheck this January have no doubt noticed that their payroll taxes went up and their take-home salary went down,” Deal said. “This is the cost of entitlements. If you think your taxes went up a lot this month, just wait till we hve to pay for ‘free health care.’ Free never cost so much.”
The push is on to quickly approve a Medicaid funding fix bill proposed by the Governor with an initial Senate floor vote perhaps this week. Lt. Governor Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston echoed their support for the governor’s bill that would give the Community Health board the authority to continue the hospital provider fee that would otherwise sunset in June.
The fee paid by all Georgia hospitals based on annual revenue is used to draw down federal dollars that are redistributed to hospitals that serve Medicaid patients. The General Assembly enacted the fee three years ago to address a rapidly developing shortage in Medicaid funds caused by increased demand for services. Deal said 12-to-14 hospitals would face closure if the provider fee is not continued. DCH imposes a similar nursing home industry fee.
“In fact, we are one of 47 states that have either a nursing home or hospital provider fee or both,” Deal said. The governor said “it makes sense to me” that DCH should have authority over both fees “for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.” The move also means that state lawmakers would be spared having to vote to continue an expiring fee or impose a new one.
Deal said DCH has identified $109 million in cost-savings. “But this hardly covers the additional nearly $500 million in needed funds caused by growth in Medicaid expenses during the same time frame,” Deal said. “This means we must make necessary cuts in other agencies and core functions of government since raising taxes is not an option I will accept!”
The governor is no fan or friend to the federal health care reform law known as Obamacare.
During the past several months the Deal administration said it will not expand Medicaid eligibility starting in 2014 because the state cannot afford more than $2.5 billion that it currently spends annually on Medicaid. The federal government pays about $5 billion annually. Georgia anticipates its share of Medicaid costs will increase at least $1.7 billion over the next ten years.
Deal said the federal health care reform law will add $106 million to the cost of state-provided health care benefits for active and retired employees starting in 2014. He also said Georgia will be assessed a new $35 million insurance tax starting in 2015. About 13 percent of all state budget dollars currently pay for Medicaid or the state children’s health insurance programs.
“The irony to me is that there are those in the medical community who are urging the expansion of the Medicaid program while at the same time, they are seeing more and more medical providers refusing to accept Medicaid patients,” Deal said. “If you are losing money now how do you reconcile the number of patients on whom you will lose even more money.”
Georgia also said it will not create a state health insurance exchange, as envisioned in the federal health care reform law. “I see no benefit to our citizens to have a program bearing the name of the State of Georgia over which our elected or appointed officials have little if any say so,” Deal said. “While many federal programs come with strings attached, these strings turn states into marionettes to be manipulated by federal bureaucrats.”
As for “Tweeter,” the Governor noted, “My staff tells me that I am really getting into the modern age. You can go to my Tweeter account!” for updates on the State of the State address. The address will be carried live on General Assembly and Georgia Public Broadcasting websites. GPTV will broadcast the State of the State address and the Democratic leadership response in their entirety at 7:00 p.m. on the legislative program “Lawmakers.”
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
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