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Open Meetings, Records Act Rewrite Pushed by Attorney General Olens

Mike Klein

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet on August 30 to discuss a rewrite of the state Open Meetings and Records Act that has become a priority for Attorney General Sam Olens.  House Bill 397 was filed late in this past spring’s session and a vote is possible next year.  “My goal is to pass the bill,” Olens said.  “I’m not putting myself out here for failure.”

Making public records easier to obtain, opening more meetings to citizen eyes and cracking down harder on those who prevent that from happening has become a goal for the first-term Attorney General.  He made that clear during a recent presentation to the Atlanta Press Club.

“While the press continues to spend much energy on ORA – the Open Records Act – which I totally understand and appreciate – I would suggest to you that most abuses occur with regard to the Open Meetings Act,” Olens told about 115 Press Club guests during a panel discussion.

“When you go to a public meeting and they cover 20 topics in 15 minutes please don’t think that the meeting’s agenda was handled at the meeting.  So the most meaningful changes in this rewrite relate to the Meetings Act rather than Open Records.”

Attorney General Sam Olens

Olens noted one particularly egregious recent Open Records Act request case.  A citizen who requested information from the Cherokee County School District was told it would take several thousand hours to produce the work, only after he submitted a check for more than $324,000.

“My office called the lawyer for the Cherokee County School board and said, you really don’t want our letter do you?  The next week the individual got the documents he wanted,” Olens said.

House Bill 397 would address how much governments can charge in advance for records requests, set guidelines for  providing them electronically, and it would mandate which records public agencies must keep and for how long.”

The legislation would also introduce the possibility of civil or criminal penalties for Open Meetings or Records Act offenders, and steeply increased fines.

“When you look at other states that are considered (to have) model Sunshine Laws, they all have strong legislative intent that you’re supposed to give the public government information.  We don’t have that in our law at all, and that’s in (the legislation),” Olens said.  “We are trying as best we can to strengthen the law and get it passed.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

August 10, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Governor Deal Asked, Is Transportation Sales Tax In Trouble?

Mike Klein

Governor Nathan Deal did not hesitate Wednesday when was asked whether the state regional transportation sales tax referendum scheduled for next year is in trouble, as some believe.  If the measure passes the sales tax would be imposed for ten years and it would fund projects that voters would know about before they approve the money.

“I don’t necessarily think that it is,” Governor Deal replied during a news conference at the State Capitol.  “Obviously, anytime in an economy like we have now getting people to understand that an additional one penny is going to be asked of them is a very significant undertaking.

“But by the same token, I think this is a unique opportunity for Georgians to have a say in the transportation and transit projects that they think are important in their part of the state.”

T-SPLOST – the penny-per-dollar transportation special local option sales tax – is scheduled for a July 2012 primary election vote.  Deal will ask the General Assembly to move the vote to next year’s November 8 general election.  Look for the change to become official when the General Assembly is in town starting next week for the once every ten years redistricting special session.

Governor Nathan Deal

“This is a long way away and we are proposing the date be changed to give more time for more Georgians to participate,” Deal said.  “We believe that moving the actual vote to the general election will, in fact, do that.”

Almost 2.6 million Georgians voted in the November 2010 general election, but fewer than 1.1 million voted in the summer primary.  The move is a gamble that more voters who are inclined to support the measure will be vote in the general election.

Now to the business of redistricting.  Legislators and mapmakers have been working for months on new maps that will add one U.S. House district in north Georgia, giving the state 14 Congress members.  Population growth and shifts will increase north Georgia representation in the state Senate and House, with the byproduct being reduced representation from southern sections.

State House district proposed maps will be released online this Friday.  Georgia voting district maps face certification by the U.S. Justice Department before they can become official.  Legislators will also be asked to extend the gasoline tax rate freeze that Deal imposed in July.

Some very big issues that are not part of the Special Session remain in play.  Work continues on tax reform that was left incomplete in April when legislators lost confidence in fiscal data.  A K-12 education finance reform committee is at work on ideas to rewrite the state’s 26-year-old public education funding formula.  A corrections reform effort is underway, and last week Governor Deal appointed a commission to work on improving higher education graduation rates.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

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Michelle Rhee: No Child Left Behind “Not Perfect” but not a Total Bust

Mike Klein

Michelle Rhee, the innovative founder of StudentsFirst and former chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools, spoke about the new Obama administration No Child Left Behind waivers when she appeared on CNN on Wednesday morning.  “American Morning” host Christine Romans asked, has NCLB been a bust?

“I don’t think so at all.  Let me be clear that the law is not perfect.  I think everyone knows there are some changes and modifications that need to be made, but I don’t think that anyone can doubt that it has brought a new level of accountability to American schools,” Rhee said.

“We are looking at data in a way that we never have before, we are paying attention to sub-groups of kids and saying that it’s not okay for certain groups of kids in your school or school district to be failing and in those ways, it’s incredibly important.”

On Monday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan used the White House briefing room to announce that all 50 states could apply for waivers from the No Child Left Behind requirement that 100 percent of students be proficient in math and reading by 2014.  Georgia will apply.

StudentsFirst Founder Michelle Rhee

Michelle Rhee again on CNN: “We want kids to meet the standards.  Now, is that all that should be happening?  No.  One of the things you see is tests only test certain subjects, often mat and reading, and sometimes what schools do is go overboard and they just try to jam reading and math down the kids’ throats.  That’s not the answer.

“The research shows that kids who have access to a broad-based curriculum are the ones who do better academically.  But also, we shouldn’t go to the other direction to say testing is evil, testing is bad.  We have to be able to, in a very objective and consistent way, know whether or not kids are learning and meeting the standards.  The way to do that is a standardized test.

“One of the things that drive people nuts about No Child Left Behind is that it sets certain benchmarks for proficiency.  X percent of your kids have to be at proficiency and it goes up every year until 2014 when 100 percent of your kids are supposed to be proficient.  People look at that and say, it’s not realistic.

“We have to be able to look at growth.  Is the school moving student achievement in the right direction?  Are the students growing to meet certain targets?  Instead of having a binary distinction of either met Adequate Yearly Progress or you have not, what has the growth looked like?  We have to modify the system so that achievement and growth can be taken into account without there being this strict binary yes and no.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

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