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Deal Administration Releases “Opportunity School District” Legislation

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Republished by Charter Confidential.

Governor Nathan Deal’s administration began to build the intellectual equity case for his “Opportunity School District” initiative today during a joint House-Senate education committees hearing at the State Capitol. Deal is asking this year’s General Assembly to put a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot that if approved by voters would give the state a new tool to combat failing schools.

The worst failing schools could essentially become “wards of the state” until they are fixed or suffer some other fate. Deal has said 23 percent of Georgia public schools graded “D” or “F” for three consecutive years.  The administration needs two-thirds approval by the Legislature to put a constitutional amendment before voters in  November, 2016.  Georgia is considered a school choice leader because of progress in charter schools and tax credit scholarships but it does not have a recovery school option.

The Governor’s Office announced legislation today:  “In the governor’s proposal, persistently failing schools are defined as those scoring below 60 on the Georgia Department of Education’s accountability measure, the College and Career Performance Index (CCRPI), for three consecutive years. The Opportunity School District would take in no more than 20 schools per year, meaning it would govern no more than 100 at any given time. Schools would stay in the district for no less than five years but no more than 10 years.”

The administration did not testify about specific legislation during the State Capitol hearing, relying instead on building-the-case witnesses from two neighboring states — Louisiana and Tennessee — that have similar models.  In Louisiana they are called recovery schools and in Tennessee they are called achievement schools.  The intent is the same, to provide an alternative option to rescue failed schools.  With alternatives come challenges and questions including facilities, funding, attendance zones, attracting high quality teaching and leadership talent and accountability.  All of these will undoubtedly be addressed many times during the General Assembly’s consideration of Governor Deal’s proposal.

The final moments of the two-hour hearing might have been the most dramatic when Sam Rauschenberg, Deputy Director at the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA), testified that millions of dollars spent in Race to the Top education federal grants does not appear to have made much difference at public schools where those millions were invested.  The question he was asked and his answer are quoted at the bottom of this article.  This exchange makes a compelling argument that spending money, more money, does not by itself work.

Here is a description of the House – Senate committee hearing discussion as it occurred.  Note: the joint committee did not release an advance witness list.  The hearing was held at the Coverdell Office Building across from the State Capitol.  Watching online, the room seems packed to overflow, including senior policy advisers from the Governor’s Office.

1:10 – 1:45 p.m. — The first portion of the hearing has been devoted to witnesses from Louisiana who are discussing the state’s use of recovery school districts, especially since 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated public education facilities, specifically in New Orleans. The first witness is Paul Pastorek, former Louisiana school superintendent and considered a reformer in public education accountability. (Click here to learn about his work.)  Recovery school districts were in place in 2005 but the state moved to re-emphasize non-traditional models as it rebuilt the ravaged public education system.  The second witness is Neerav Kingsland, chief executive officer at New Schools for New Orleans (click here) since May 2012.  New Schools is frequently cited as an education success story.

1:45 p.m. — Former Tennessee commissioner of education Kevin Huffman is discussing the state’s “Achievement School Districts” which are an alternative to traditional K-12 public education classrooms.  Charter schools are one part of this structure.  Huffman talked about trying to “make a match” between what communities need and charter schools that best fit the needs.  Huffman said one of the greatest constraints on growth is finding great leaders and teachers.  Memphis is a target area for this education innovation.  There currently are 16 Tennessee achievement schools.  Huffman said, “The early signs are promising but I think it’s early to judge because we have so few schools.  We look at New Orleans and that is what we want. We want the schools in Memphis to improve” similar to successes seen in Louisiana.  Huffman resigned his commissioner’s appointment in January 2015.

2:00 p.m. — The next witness is Sam Rauschenberg, Deputy Director at the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement (GOSA).  A native Georgian, Rauschenberg moved to New Orleans in 2007 after he graduated with honors from Georgia College.  Rauschenberg taught math for three years at Joseph S. Clark High School in New Orleans. He described the experience as “a tremendous struggle” because many students could not perform at or anything near grade level.  The school converted to a recovery school model several years ago; Rauschenberg said today overall academic performance at Joseph S. Clark High School has increased about 20 percent.

2:05 p.m. — Question Time from Senate and House members.  At this point there has not been any presentation about Governor Deal’s proposed Opportunity School District.  Committee members are asking questions to the Louisiana and Tennessee witnesses about accountability, how the states attracted quality instructional talent and whether charter schools were for-profit or non-profit models.

2:50 p.m. — Toward the end of the discussion Senator Donzella James asked a lengthy question. In part, she said, “Who is going to identify chronically failing schools, what’s the root cause of them and are we just taking money away from the public school system rather than putting more in it which seemed to be the reason that we were having the problems in the first place?”  Her question was directed to Sam Rauschenberg.  This was his response:

“I haven’t been in all the conversations about the bill but I will say our agency (GOSA) has been part of the evaluation work, the Race to the Top work, much of which was to turn around low-performing schools.  The state received a significant infusion of money for low achieving schools as well as school improvement grants (from) the federal government.  A lot of these schools got millions of dollars to do so and our analysis which is available on our website showed that only a few of those have made some gains but overall they have not made tremendous gains.  The model that was chosen was a transformation model which had very limited changes in the overall structure of the schools relative to the other options but there was a significant infusion of money into those schools over a three-year period.  I would go to those as examples of schools that were low-performing and had a lot of resources to answer that part of your question.”

3:00 p.m. — The meeting concluded.  No next meeting was announced.

(Mike Klein has written about Georgia K-12 public education since 2010.  He held executive positions with CNN where he was Vice President of News Production, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and Georgia Public Broadcasting.  Mike on LinkedIn.)

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February 11, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Next Move for Georgia Justice Reform Belongs to Legislators

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Republished by Right on Crime and Capitol@Issue.

Georgia legislators will soon have the opportunity to reconfigure the state’s troubled adult misdemeanor private probation industry, redesign juvenile justice technology information tools and with some urging from their governor, create a new state agency to manage the tangled web of services to help released inmates transition back into their communities. Given the General Assembly’s track record of overwhelming support for previous justice reforms the ideas that you see discussed here are quite likely to happen.

The vision for these changes is contained in the 2014–2015 Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform (CCJR) report that was unanimously approved by its members late last week. More than just a reflection of new policy ideas, the 72-page document fully chronicles the history of Georgia’s current justice reform that began with Governor Nathan Deal’s inauguration in January 2011.

Dozens of CCJR recommendations are contained in the report. A few are game-changers:

Adult Misdemeanor Probation

Last spring Governor Deal vetoed a misdemeanor probation reform bill because it would have exempted providers from the Open Records Act. An official state audit was highly critical of the financial practices of some providers and it said some exceeded their legal authorities. Then in December the state Supreme Court overturned “tolling,” the long-standing practice under which arrest warrants were issued and sentences were paused when offenders failed to report or fulfill their court-ordered obligations. Justices said the state has no legal authority for those actions.

The Council said private probation providers should be placed under tighter financial scrutiny including strict disclosure rules. The Council recommended the adoption of community service options for misdemeanor probationers when they are delinquent paying fines or fees because of financial insolvency. At the same time, delinquent probationers would be guaranteed a hearing before new discipline. Further, the Council said that “tolling” should be enacted into law.

Juvenile Justice Information Sharing

Players in the adult criminal justice system have access to deep data that is maintained by the Georgia Crime Information Center at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Players in the juvenile justice system have nothing remotely close to the sophisticated adult system. The Council recommendation is to create a very sophisticated juvenile justice information system.

Under the CJRC proposal the Council of Juvenile Court Judges would create a “dictionary” of common terms for the purposes of statewide reporting. A data exchange would be created to share the information and a data depository would be updated daily by individual courts for use by all juvenile courts statewide and for purposes of statewide reporting. This project would bring together several entities and it would carefully comply with federal laws about juvenile records.

Department of Community Supervision

Last month Deal used his State of the State address to propose creation of DCS to assist released offenders toward a successful transition back to the free world.  The big idea here is to coordinate the tools to help reduce recidivism. DCS would likely have up to 2,000 employees drawn from adult corrections, juvenile justice and pardons and parole. The Council recommended that the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Re-Entry should move from adult corrections to DCS. It also recommended moving the County and Municipal Probation Advisory Council that oversees probation officers and private entities.

The three ideas discussed here are just a small portion of the CCJR report. There is a link below to the complete document. The Council will reconvene in late spring after the 2015 General Assembly concludes.

The agenda will likely include whether cases that involve 17-year-olds should be heard in adult courts – that is current Georgia law – or in juvenile courts, which is where you will find age 17 cases in more than 40 states. This year’s Council heard testimony but concluded it needs more information before making any recommendation. Mandatory minimum sentencing options and new discussions about community-based mental health services could also work their way onto the 2015 – 2016 agenda.

Additional Resources

2014 – 2015 GA Criminal Justice Reform Council Report

Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Council Website

Georgia’s New Justice Agency Would Have Massive Footprint

Attacking the Bad Headlines Around Misdemeanor Private Probation

Georgia Targets Huge Gap With Juvenile Justice Databank Project

(Mike Klein has written about Georgia criminal justice reform since 2010.  He held executive positions with CNN where he was Vice President of News Production, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and Georgia Public Broadcasting.  Mike on LinkedIn.)

February 10, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Early Political Education of Richard Woods

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

The path for Richard Woods to become Georgia’s new state schools superintendent opened after his predecessor committed political suicide. John Barge might still have the top education office if he had not alienated Governor Nathan Deal, made fellow Republicans furious and simultaneously angered thousands of school choice families.

Barge broke with Deal in August, 2012 when he said he would not support a constitutional amendment to recreate the state’s charter schools commission. Barge aligned himself with the traditional education establishment that dislikes charters and especially alternate authorization.

Suddenly an outsider among Republicans and ignored by the Governor’s Office, Barge made the decision to announce he would leave the Superintendent’s office after one term to challenge Deal in the 2014 Republican gubernatorial primary; thus ended John Barge’s career, at least that phase of it.

Woods appears to have noticed how that played out. This was obvious when Woods delivered opening remarks at the Georgia Charter Schools Association leadership conference. A surprise guest, Governor Deal, made an early morning decision to attend with First Lady Sandra Deal.

“I am a friend of charter school K-12 innovation,” Woods told educators who packed the Busbee Center Auditorium last Friday morning at Gwinnett Technical College. “People will get to know me and I will get to know you but I guarantee you this, you will have no stronger advocate, no stronger person that will support and sing the praises of the work that you do.

“I will work to make sure you have the funding, the personnel and the resources you need to reach every child that comes through your door,” Woods said during an eight-minute address. He concluded, “Across the state we want to make sure we allow teachers to do the one thing they want to do, that is, close your door and teach and reach their child.”

Barge became Superintendent when Republicans swept the state’s top executive offices in November 2010. He was viewed as being a supportive player in summer 2011 when Barge worked to help keep 17 charter schools open for 16,000 students after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled a state charter schools commission that was established in 2008 was unconstitutional.

One year later his decision to oppose a charter schools commission constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot aligned Barge with local boards of education and superintendents. The amendment passed with 58 percent. Barge chose to stand side-by-side with a bureaucracy that could not save him from political extinction.

The next few years will be exciting and challenging. Deal wants to create an Opportunity School District that would allow the state to take custody of failing schools. His new Education Reform Commission will propose long overdue changes to public schools funding. Supporters will advocate for creation of education savings accounts and expansion of tax credit scholarships.

Woods talks about wanting to cultivate “good press” to replace the “bad stories” about Georgia public education. His chances for success will be greatly enhanced by recognition of who makes and who implements policy. Georgia is a school choice leader. John Barge possibly would still be there if he had made a different decision. Richard Woods seems to already understand that.

(Mike Klein has written about Georgia public education since 2010.  He has held executive positions with CNN where he was Vice President of News Production, the Georgia Public Policy Foundation and Georgia Public Broadcasting.  Mike on LinkedIn.)

RICHARD WOODS Georgia State Schools Superintendent (Georgia Charter Schools Association Photo)

RICHARD WOODS
Georgia State Schools Superintendent
(Georgia Charter Schools Association Photo)

February 4, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Targets Huge Gap with Juvenile Justice Databank Project

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

For discussion purposes, let’s imagine you are a juvenile court judge somewhere in Georgia. A young man and his attorney are standing before you, pleading the boy’s case. Within minutes you will decide whether the boy is sentenced to detention or a community-based program.

Something about how the young man tells his story makes you question, what else is going on here?  Has this kid been kicking around without a family, without role models, without direction and what he needs is help or, is this one of those kids who really needs to be off the streets?  Is this kid about to hurt himself or someone else?  What is the right decision here?

So knowing that these questions must be answered you log onto the state’s massive juvenile justice databank that contains everything you need. The young man’s entire legal record is there, all his previous interactions with the juvenile justice system, a record of every arrest, all previous court decisions, outstanding warrants for other alleged crimes committed in any county statewide.

It’s all there, everything you need to decide between detention and a treatment program.

Except that it’s not there because, astonishingly, there is no statewide juvenile justice databank. An adult databank – the Georgia Crime Information Center — is maintained at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. There is no comparable juvenile resource. Georgia juvenile judges sometimes operate in a weird blind man’s alley when they try to understand the true picture about a troubled kid.  Clayton County Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steve Teske has said sometimes he uses his cell phone from the bench to contact other judges who might know something about a juvenile who is standing before him in court.

That should start to change next year with the anticipated creation of a juvenile justice data dictionary and repository that would be accessible throughout law enforcement. The Council on Criminal Justice Reform (CCJR) appointed by Governor Nathan Deal has worked on the project all year. It unanimously approved recommendations during a meeting this week in Atlanta.

Pulling this idea together meant coordinating stakeholders who have reason to make this work:

• The Council of Juvenile Court Judges technology committee would create a dictionary of defined data elements to be used for the statewide reporting of all juvenile justice data. An electronic exchange that complies with U.S. Justice Department global justice data sharing standards would be created to share the information.
• Data would be accessible through a new electronic repository that would be maintained in a partnership between the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Council of Juvenile Court Judges and the Administrative Office of the Courts. Information would be updated daily and would be available to individual courts and for statewide reporting purposes.
• Further, the Department of Juvenile Justice would fund the entire project because it is the single state entity that is responsible for housing youth and state juvenile records.

The Council recommendation does not include a fiscal note. It also does not propose legislation during the 2015 General Assembly. Next year would be devoted to creating and launching the model under the auspices of the Council of Juvenile Court Judges and the CCJR with an expectation that the dictionary and its usage would be recommended as a state law in 2016.

In the juvenile justice oversight committee meeting on Tuesday, December 2, CCJR co-chair Thomas Worthy said there is “concern over not only what we are collecting but how we do it.” The electronic data dictionary and exchange would focus on pre-disposition risk assessment, detention assessment data and overall juvenile case disposition.

“One of the biggest problems we’ve had in general including juvenile courts is data and we have it across the broad spectrum of agencies in the state,” said Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs who co-chairs the Council with Worthy. “We’ve got a lot of duplication of effort, a lot of collection of data that will ultimately drive public policy but only if it is accurate.”

The Council’s 2014 final report due next month will also include recommendations to change how the state handles adult misdemeanor probation. This political hot potato came into focus during 2014 when an internal state audit was highly critical of privately-managed misdemeanor probation practices. This year Governor Deal vetoed a misdemeanor probation reform bill because he felt that it lacked transparency. The state Supreme Court also ruled on a private probation case in November.

The Council’s final report will be submitted to Governor Deal and the Legislature in mid-to-late January. The 2015 General Assembly opens on Monday, January 12, at the State Capitol in Atlanta.

(Mike Klein has held executive leadership positions with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Georgia Public Broadcasting and CNN where he was Vice President of News Production.  His justice articles have been republished by the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s “Right on Crime” initiative.  Learn more about Mike at LinkedIn.)

December 11, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Approves Aggressive Blueprint for Prisoner Reentry Initiative

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Georgia criminal justice reform will push the pedal hard over the next several months with rapid expansion of the state’s prisoner reentry initiative. Millions of federal grant dollars will become seed money for fifteen pilot project sites starting now through the 2017 calendar year. The goal is to give released inmates a better chance to succeed when they go outside the walls.

“If we really want to impact statewide recidivism reduction we’ve got to make sure we are targeting our resources on the right individuals and, by the way, the right interventions as well,” says Jay Neal, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Transition, Support and Reentry.

The state Council on Criminal Justice Reform voted to approve a three-year prisoner reentry initiative (GA-PRI) when it met this week in Atlanta. The Council also approved a presentation Georgia will make during a Pew Charitable Trusts conference next month in San Diego.

Recidivism is the rate at which prisoners are re-arrested for a felony crime within three years of their prison release. Georgia’s historic rate has hovered at about 30 percent. The GA-PRI goal is to reduce recidivism to 25 percent within two more years and 24 percent within five years.

Last month the U.S. Justice Department said Georgia will receive $6 million over three years to support prisoner reentry. The breakdown is $3 million for recidivism reduction, $1.75 million for faith-based prison in-reach, $750,000 for pardons and parole and $500,000 to improve justice information systems. New employee salaries and benefits will be paid by the federal grants for one year before those positions transition to state budget dollars.

The 2015-year pilot projects are in Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Macon and Savannah. Ten pilot locations have been selected for 2016 and 2017 but not the order in which they will launch before the initiative is expanded statewide by the end of the 2018 calendar year.

Neal describes GA-PRI as “one plan, one strategy” but he also says, “We’re going to see that our local councils are not going to look the same from one site to the next. Reentry plans are not going to be identical because each site has a different set of assets and barriers and gaps and quite frankly, a different set of returning citizens who are coming back as well.”

The heart of this initiative is to provide former offenders with improved health and mental health services, housing and employment opportunities, training and more consistent positive contact. Neal warned the council that Georgia should not waste “an incredible opportunity’ to build upon some of the early successes since GA-PRI launched about one year ago.

The Pew National Conference on Justice Reinvestment will be held in November in San Diego. Georgia will discuss the impact of reforms before and since the Council was created in 2011. Adult criminal justice, juvenile justice and prisoner reentry policies were addressed in the 2012 – 2014 legislatures. Here is some of the data Georgia will present:

• Adults in custody declined from 60,818 in 2007 to 56,203 in 2014.
• Adults on probation increased from 142,663 in 2007 to 165,494 in 2014.
• Adults on parole increased from 20,823 in 2007 to 25,195 in 2014.
• The adult violent offender population increased from 60% in 2007 to 68% in 2014.
• The adult non-violent offender population decreased from 40% in 2007 to 32% in 2014.
• County jail backlog expenditures declined from $25 million in 2012 to $40,000 in 2014 after the statewide adoption of mandatory electronic sentencing packages.
• County jail populations are down from 94% capacity in 2010 to 78% capacity in 2014.

The Council agenda for November includes discussion on several possible recommendations:

• Creation of a juvenile justice “data dictionary” to ensure common language is used.
• Standardization of juvenile court data exchanges to create uniformity across the state.
• Adoption of a universal school discipline code to standardize juvenile discipline.
• More discussion about community-based juvenile detention alternatives.
• A hard focus on adult misdemeanor private probation transparency proposals.
• Potential changes to “life without parole” for non-violent recidivist drug offenders.
• Clarifications to criminal records expungement under the adult “First Offender Act”.
• Other topics could also be placed on the agenda.

The Council will schedule at least one December meeting before issuing its final report that is due to Governor Nathan Deal before the General Assembly returns on January 12, 2015.

(Mike Klein is a journalist who has held management and content leadership positions with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Georgia Public Broadcasting and CNN where he was Vice President of News Production. Learn more about Mike at LinkedIn.)

October 31, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GA New DFCS Leader: “If You’re Part of the Problem, Your Days Are Done”

MIKE KLEIN

MIKE KLEIN

Governor Nathan Deal’s new hand-picked executive-in-charge of child protective services says, “If you’re part of the bureaucracy and you’re part of the problem, your days are done.”

Thursday afternoon the Governor’s Office said Bobby Cagle will become interim director at the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), effective Monday. Cagle moves from the Department of Early Care and Learning where he has been commissioner since his appointment by Deal in 2010.

Cagle told me later Thursday that he has been told to evaluate everything and make any recommendation. “I intend to go in with a very critical lens, look at all that we have going on, the people that are in place and my charge is clear from the Governor, assure safety and do what’s needed,” Cagle said. “That includes changing policies, changing personnel, asking for additional resources, anything that needs to be done, he has cleared the way for me to do it.”

Child protective service has been a division inside the state Department of Human Services. As soon as next year it could become a stand-alone agency, a change that would require legislation. “I guess that’s a potential,” Cagle said. “Rather than speculate what I would say is the Governor has told me to do whatever it takes to assure that the department is running appropriately. If that includes the creation of a (new child protective services agency) I will recommend that.”

Georgia child protective service has long suffered from, and some would say has earned, its reputation for inefficiency and failure to protect children.  Success does not make headlines; success does not end up on the evening news. The deaths of two children last year who were in state protective services further ruptured faith in policies and personnel, and generated massive negative headlines about Georgia child care.

GOVERNOR NATHAN DEAL

GOVERNOR NATHAN DEAL

What a difference six months makes.  In January Deal announced that his administration would fund 500 new caseworkers over three years. In March he created a child welfare reform council. Thursday Deal installed Cagle and new interim deputy director Katie Jo Ballard to manage DFCS and he ordered that DFCS report directly to his office, bypassing the Department of Human Services senior administration.

“What you can say is decision making has moved very close to the Governor,” Cagle said when we spoke at Emory Law School where he attended the second meeting of the Governor’s child welfare reform council on Thursday. Throughout our discussion Cagle frequently used the word urgency, specifically, “elevate the urgency around the idea that children are safe.” Safety will become more important than family reunification which has been a long-standing policy.

Cagle started his career as a North Carolina child protective services worker. Later he became a small county director and then deputy director in the North Carolina’s largest county. Prior to the DECAL assignment Cagle spent more than five years in Georgia child protective services. This move returns him to a public sector that he already understands.

BOBBY CAGLE

BOBBY CAGLE

“Child welfare has had some changes nationally over the years but the essential basics of child welfare have not changed,” Cagle said. “It is a matter of assuring that you have good contact with the public, getting those reports in, assuring that they are assigned out timely and that you’ve got an investigator talking to the children, talking to the family, assuring immediate safety and then beginning to work on the problems families may have that endanger children long-term. The essentials of that have not changed and I don’t suspect will. The approaches to how we work on family dynamics, how we do investigations, those have changed somewhat.”

Child protective services is about as complex as you can get in the public sector. Caseworkers interact with families who always are in some or extreme crisis. The lines between truth and fiction are not always clear and it is also true that young children often want to protect the adults who care for them even when those same adults are the ones who neglect, abuse or mistreat them. Caseworkers are not highly compensated and their burnout rate is significant.

So, there is nothing simple about any of this. A serious shortage of foster care homes and how to recruit and keep good foster parents is near the top of the urgent priorities list. “There are many groups that have worked on this for decades,” Cagle said. “We’ll continue to plug away, use the best knowledge that there is and the resources of this department to solve that issue.”

Cagle has another message for DFCS personnel. “If you’re there, you’re committed to children, you’re committed to doing the right things for children and families, then you’re safe.”

Additional Resource:

One Little Boy, One Little Girl, Two Unspeakable Child Murders

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

(Article published Friday, June 13, 2014)

June 13, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Second Adult Criminal Justice Reform Bill Becomes Law

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Governor Nathan Deal on Thursday signed an adult criminal justice reform bill that revises minimum mandatory sentencing laws, expands the state’s right to evidence appeals and creates a new criminal justice reform council that will remain on-the-watch until 2023.  In sum, the state will continue to consider criminal justice best practices for another ten years.

The House Bill 349 signing ceremony was held in Marietta where Deal said, “When I first became Governor I was concerned about something that I was told Republicans shouldn’t really be concerned about and that was the fact that we were the tenth largest state in population but that we had the fourth largest prison population.

“We had had a ‘tough on crime’ stance in this state for many years,” the Governor told Kiwanis members, “not that it was inappropriate but in hindsight I felt it was not achieving the results that we wanted.” (Watch Deal’s remarks on YouTube.)

Two years ago Deal and the General Assembly created a Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform that paved the way for last year’s major overhaul of adult criminal justice policies.  The door was opened to alternative courts and other ideas that potentially reduce incarceration for non-violent offenders but enable the state to always securely lock away truly violent offenders.

The legislation that Governor Deal signed Thursday revises mandatory minimum sentencing options for some drug cases when the judge believes circumstances do not warrant imposition of the more severe mandatory minimum sentence.   HB 349 also gives judges leeway to impose a lesser sentence in sexual offense and serious violence cases when prosecutors and defense counsel agree circumstances do not warrant the more severe mandatory minimum sentence.

Governor Nathan Deal signs criminal justice reform  legislation Thursday in Marietta.  (Photo by Alana Joyner, Governor's Office)

Governor Nathan Deal signs criminal justice reform legislation Thursday in Marietta. (Photo by Alana Joyner, Governor’s Office)

House Bill 349 also changes state law that currently requires prosecutors to prove a defendant “knowingly” trafficked drugs of a specific type and weight.  After July 1, the date on which the bill takes effect, police and prosecutors will not be required to prove that a drug trafficking defendant knew the weight of illegal drugs.  This new drug trafficking prosecution law will then become consistent with simple possession drug laws that passed the General Assembly last year.

On the question of evidence appeals, prosecutors will be allowed a direct appeal to the Court of Appeals of Georgia or the state Supreme Court if a lower court excludes prosecution evidence during pre-trial proceedings.  This section of HB 349 was not included in the December 2012 Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform recommendations.  Indeed, it was highly emphasized by the state’s district attorneys and it was included after fairly intense back-and-forth negotiations.

“This bill gives us the ability as prosecutors, when we believe the court has incorrectly ruled on an evidentiary issue, to then take that to the appellate court and have it reviewed,” said Chuck Spahos, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia.

Some opponents said in legislative hearings that expanded evidence appeals might delay speedy trials.  “I don’t believe that’s going to be a huge issue,” Spahos said during an interview.  “I don’t believe it’s going to create a large floodgate of appellate cases or interfere with speedy trials.”  (Watch the Spahos interview on YouTube .)

Deal will sign juvenile justice reform legislation next week.  Like its earlier adult justice system cousin, HB 242 emphasizes community-based local alternative resources for juveniles who are not a public safety threat, underscores the intent to incarcerate violent juveniles and it recreates the state’s antiquated juvenile civil code, especially as it pertains to children in need of services, adoption, dependency cases, parental rights and dozens of other juvenile non-criminal issues.

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

April 26, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Supporters: Trauma Care Funding Amendment Slain by Angry Voters

Leading advocates for statewide dedicated trauma care funding said Wednesday afternoon that they will plead their case with Georgia Governor-elect Nathan Deal and the new General Assembly, but they are not optimistic about chances to find $80 million in the current state budget or anytime soon.

Georgia Trauma Care Network Commission chairman Dr. Dennis Ashley said voters are angry and they distrust politicians to take their money and do the right thing.  “I’ve never seen anything like this,” Ashley said.  “We felt like if we got out there and showed the facts we could overcome it.”

Constitutional Amendment #2 asked voters to approve a $10 annual vehicle registration tax that would be dedicated to improve trauma care throughout the state but mostly in rural Georgia.  The ballot question lost 52.6% to 47.4% and it failed in 145 of the state’s 159 counties.

“I don’t think this was about $10 or trauma care.  It was about government,” said Kevin Bloye, vice president of the Georgia Hospital Association.  “What we heard was (voters) didn’t feel like the money would be used for trauma.   They felt like it would be money flushed down another hole.  As much as we tried to tell them the dollars were locked into trauma care, they weren’t buying it.”

Tuesday was the first time Georgia voters were asked to consider dedicated trauma care funding.  “Even with unemployment the way it is and anti-government sentiment, we still got 1.2 million people that thought trauma care was enough of a problem that they were willing to pay $10 per year,” said Ashley.

“That’s no small number.  The ones who voted no, they were supportive of trauma care.  They thought it was a good idea to save 700 lives a year.  They just wanted no more taxes and they want the money to come from the general fund.”

Despite its defeat, the amendment overcame a perception north Georgia voters would not approve funds that would primarily assist south Georgians.  Three large population counties in metropolitan Atlanta – Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton – approved the measure by slim margins, as did Chatham County (Savannah) on the southeast coast.  But much needed rural support never materialized.

“The irony was the people who needed this amendment to pass the most were the ones who rejected it,” Bloye said.  “Without doubt the major gaps in trauma care are in south Georgia, southwest Georgia and northeast Georgia. Those are the areas that rejected the amendment.”

Georgia’s General Assembly created the constitutional amendment path when it could not or would not fund trauma care from the state’s general budget.  Ashley said he discussed trauma care funding with Governor-elect Deal “two weeks ago.  He talked like he was supportive of (dedicated trauma care funding) but we didn’t get into any details. We’ll just have to see how that plays out.”

Bloye pointed to “an unprecedented time in state government.  Collections remain down.  There are huge funding holes.  Frankly, it’s going to be very difficult the next few years to get anything done with trauma care. Does that mean we will stop working on it?  Absolutely not.  We will work as hard as ever but this is going to be a huge uphill climb.”

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

November 3, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Republicans Finish the Drill; Trauma Care Amendment Loses

This article was published by StatehouseNewsOnline.Com and Watchdog.Org.

Georgia voters provided Republicans arguably their greatest statewide victory ever Tuesday as the GOP administered a whipping to Democrats like nothing they had seen, literally, since Reconstruction after the Civil War.  This was the political equivalent of what football coaches preach:  Finish the Drill!

Republicans won every state constitutional office starting with Governor.  Retired nine-term congressman Nathan Deal ended Democratic former Governor Roy Barnes’ comeback bid by 53% to 43%.  Georgia requires a majority margin to win.  Georgia sent Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson back to Washington by an even wider margin, 58% to 39%.

That was just the beginning of a great night for Republicans, a fright night for Democrats.

Republicans retained seven Congressional seats and took one from Democrats.  Former GOP state legislator Austin Scott defeated four-term Democrat Jim Marshall 53% to 47% in central Georgia’s 8th Congressional district.  Republicans will hold both Senate seats and eight of the state’s 13 House seats in the next Congress.

Republicans seized three state executive offices from Democrats:  attorney general, agriculture commissioner and labor commissioner.  The GOP retained lieutenant governor, secretary of state, insurance commissioner, state school superintendent and public service commissioner.

As Wednesday dawned over Georgia, Democrats could only wonder, what now?

Historians will consider whether Tuesday was more significant than eight years ago when Sonny Perdue became Georgia’s first Republican governor in 130 years.  Democrats held many state offices after 2002 and 2006 elections.  Now the GOP will hold every state government office for the next four years.  The party retained state Senate and House majorities.

The evening began with many predictions Deal and Barnes would face a gubernatorial run-off on Tuesday November 30.  Analysts predicted African-American support would break to Barnes and Libertarian candidate John Monds would take votes from Deal.  Barnes did carry the African-American vote but Monds could not get over 4% and Barnes conceded just before midnight.

Deal told supporters, “Georgia has placed its faith in the Republican Party and we are not going to let them down.” Barnes quoted the Apostle Paul, “I have fought the good fight.   I have run the good race.  I have finished the course.  I have kept the faith and so have you.”

An amendment to fund trauma care with a special $10 tax that would be added to annual vehicle registration was defeated 53% to 47%.   This high-profile measure was supported by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the state’s major medical organizations.  A major final weekend media blitz was not enough to save it from voters who rejected the new tax.

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

November 3, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Palette Likely To Become Redder; Deal – Barnes No Sure Thing

This Georgia election preview was written for the Franklin Center for Government.

Georgia’s political palette will likely become deeper Red after next Tuesday, but whether that includes the Republican Party winning its third consecutive Governor’s Office election is uncertain.

Two national organizations released polls this week that show Republican Nathan Deal up 10% over Democrat Roy Barnes but should those vote projections become vote percentages, they would not be enough to avert a late November run-off on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

The Rasmussen Reports 2010 Gubernatorial Scorecard and SurveyUSA produced identical results with Deal leading Barnes 49% to 39%.  A majority vote – 50% plus one vote — is required to win statewide office in Georgia.  Deal is a retired nine-term congressmen and Barnes served one term as Governor from 1999 to 2003 after eleven terms as a state senator or representative.

Rasmussen moved Georgia from “Leans GOP” to “Solid GOP” after a Sunday, October 24 telephone poll of 750 likely voters statewide.   Libertarian Party candidate John Monds received 5%.  The remainder indicated preference for another candidate or said they are undecided.

The SurveyUSA sample was larger, 1,100 persons interviewed by telephone over four days, Thursday, October 21 through Sunday, October 24.   The SurveyUSA outcome was identical to Rasmussen, 49% for Deal and 39% for Barnes, but Libertarian candidate Monds polled 8%.  Some analysts believe the likelihood of a November 30 gubernatorial run-off would increase if the Monds vote exceeds 5%.

The Deal campaign strategy has been to criticize nearly everything about the first Barnes administration.  It has tried to portray Barnes as an over-the-top President Barack Obama style liberal Democrat.   The Barnes strategy has been to question Deal’s personal and business ethics.  Lately, Barnes has attacked Deal for his position on a Georgia rape shield law during Deal’s tenure in the state Senate.

Down the ballot, Republicans are poised to turn an already Red state an even deeper shade of Red.   U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson is heavily favored over Democrat Michael Thurmond whose candidacy has not generated traction.  SurveyUSA shows Isakson ahead by 24% and Rasmussen has Isakson ahead by 15%. The incumbent Isakson raised some $9.1 million and Thurmond raised less than $300,000.

Republicans currently hold seven of the state’s 13 congressional seats.  Three Republican incumbents are unopposed and Republicans are favored to retain the other four seats.  Two incumbent Democrats are also in the GOP sights, Jim Marshall in central Georgia and Sanford Bishop in southwest Georgia.

The 62-year-old Marshall is running an 8th Congressional District toss-up race against 40-year-old Republican state legislator Austin Scott.  Marshall is a four-term economic conservative who supports extension of the George W. Bush tax cuts.  The former Macon mayor also has strong military credentials and he has been a strong advocate for Robins Air Force Base but all of that aside, Marshall might be swept away by anti-Democrat, anti-incumbent sentiment.

Republicans also believe they can prevail in southwest Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District where state legislator Mike Keown will try to unseat nine-term Democrat Bishop.   The congressman might be hurt by recent reports that Bishop steered congressional caucus scholarship money to his own family.

Republicans will continue to hold solid state Senate and House voting majorities after next Tuesday.   The party fielded strong candidates in eight other contested statewide office races.  Democratic incumbents are not seeking re-election in three of those eight races.

Much less certain is how Georgia voters will respond to a ballot measure that would fund statewide trauma care expansion by imposing a new $10 annual fee on nearly all privately owned vehicles.

The business community, the hospital industry and a wide range of Republican and Democratic leaders support the new fee.  But some recent sentiment suggests voters are not much interested in new fees and taxes, even though large sections of Georgia have little or no available trauma health care.  Business leaders launched Yes2SaveLives.Com to support the trauma care measure.

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment