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National Govt & Politics
Volunteer power during shutdown: “We’ve got to help take care of our [National] park.” 
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Volunteer power during shutdown: “We’ve got to help take care of our [National] park.” 

Volunteer power during shutdown: “We’ve got to help take care of our [National] park.” 
Someone's soggy, long-lost football was among the garbage collected along the Chattahoochee River Tuesday morning. Photo: Jennifer Brett

Volunteer power during shutdown: “We’ve got to help take care of our [National] park.” 

If the partial government shutdown continues much longer, a local conservancy group will likely organize volunteer teams to go out and pick up trash.  

There's not yet a serious problem of trash over-flowing containers along and inside the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. But that could soon change says Sally Bethea, board president of the Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy (CPC). 

"With no end in sight for this shutdown we've got to help take care of our park,” Bethea tells WSB Radio. 

The CPC works with the National Parks Service to assist in programs and volunteers for the CRNRA.  

Over the past week, the Conservancy has been assessing all 15 park units within the Rec Area - which stretches 48 miles from Buford Dam to the city of Atlanta. Two of the most popular sites within the National Recreation Area are Paces Mill and Cochran Shoals.      

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trash

In the days since the shutdown began, there have been individuals who have taken it upon themselves to clean up areas where they hike. Bethea says her group has already lent support to local hiker groups in the trash collection effort, but a more organized effort could soon be forthcoming. "We'll be finishing our assessment here in the next couple of days and seeing where we need to really allocate volunteers to help,” says Bethea. "We'll assume that there will be more cleanups going on in the next week and certainly if this lasts into February, we'll be working very hard." 

WSB Radio
On January 9, 2019, the visitor's center parking lot at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park remains closed during the partial government shutdown.
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Kennesaw Battlefield park

Photo Credit: WSB Radio
On January 9, 2019, the visitor's center parking lot at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park remains closed during the partial government shutdown.

The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area is not the only recreation tract in metro Atlanta affected by the gridlock in Washington D.C. In Cobb County, access to the visitor’s center parking lot at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park is closed. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports trash cans in that park have been sealed-off. And one handwritten sign left behind reads: “The government is currently shut down. To keep our park beautiful, PLEASE TAKE YOUR TRASH WITH YOU.”

Bethea understands the emotional tug by many who make park and recreation area visits part of their routine – to pitch in to help. "This is one of the areas in which people do get emotional about this shutdown, is not being able to access some of their parks." 

Bethea’s message to anyone using the parks and rec areas: “Do the right thing. Leave no trace. That means take everything out of the park except your footprints."

As for what is – or is not happening in D.C. "Hopefully the shutdown will end soon. It's...it's sad." 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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News

  • A sharply divided Supreme Court is allowing the Trump administration to go ahead with its plan to restrict military service by transgender men and women while court challenges continue. The high court split 5-4 on Tuesday in issuing orders allowing the plan to take effect for now, with the court's five conservatives greenlighting it and its four liberal members saying they wouldn't have. Some questions and answers about what the high court did: ___ Q: What's the impact on transgender men and women currently serving in the military? A: That depends on the individual's circumstances. In short, though, the justices cleared the way for the Trump administration to require that transgender troops serve as members of their biological gender unless they began a gender transition under less restrictive Obama administration rules. Until a few years ago service members could be discharged from the military for being transgender. That changed in 2016 when the Obama administration began allowing transgender men and women already serving in the military to undergo gender transition if they were diagnosed with gender dysphoria, distress associated with their biological gender. The military has said more than 900 men and women have received that diagnosis. They can continue to serve after transitioning. The Trump administration's policy would essentially freeze that number, however. Once the policy takes effect, currently serving transgender troops who didn't previously step forward and obtain a gender dysphoria diagnosis will have to serve in their biological gender. A 2016 survey estimated that about 1 percent of active-duty service members, about 9,000 men and women, identify as transgender. ___ Q: What's the impact on transgender men and women not yet in the military but who want to join? A: Individuals who have transitioned from their biological gender won't be allowed to enlist under the Trump administration's policy. That's a shift. Under previous court orders, transgender individuals had been allowed to enlist in the military since Jan. 1, 2018. Still, advocacy groups had said that process was slow, with only a handful of individuals thought to have completed the process. ___ Q: What did the Supreme Court say in allowing the Trump administration's policy to take effect for now? A: Not much. The order from the court was brief and procedural, with no elaboration from the justices. ___ Q: What happens next? A: That's up to the Trump administration and courts. While the Trump administration has the go-ahead to implement its policy for now, it's unclear how quickly that will happen. Court challenges will continue, and the cases could eventually get back to the Supreme Court on the merits of the case, whether the Trump administration policy is legal. It's very unlikely, however, that would happen before the Supreme Court recesses for the summer in late June. ___ Q: Does the Supreme Court's action reflect anything about its current makeup? A: Not necessarily. When Justice Anthony Kennedy retired last year and was replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the assumption was that the court would move to the right and become more conservative. But Kennedy biographer Frank Colucci said he doesn't think Tuesday's outcome would necessarily have been any different if Kennedy had remained on the court. Kennedy was deferential to the authority of the president, particularly in the military context, Colucci said. As an appeals court judge in 1980 Kennedy wrote a decision upholding Navy regulations that resulted in the discharge of gay and lesbian sailors. Kennedy wrote that finding the regulations constitutional was 'distinct from a statement that they are wise.' Not much is known about Kennedy's views on transgender issues. As a Supreme Court justice, he sided in 2016 with more conservative colleagues in agreeing to put on hold a ruling in favor of a transgender high school student challenging his school board's bathroom policy. But the court never reached a decision in the case after the Trump administration pulled back federal guidance advising schools to let transgender students use the bathroom of their chosen gender.
  • Senate leaders agreed to hold votes this week on dueling proposals to reopen shuttered federal agencies, forcing a political reckoning for senators grappling with the longest shutdown in U.S. history: Side with President Donald Trump or vote to temporarily end the shutdown and keep negotiating. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. set up the two showdown votes for Thursday, a day before some 800,000 federal workers are due to miss a second paycheck. One vote will be on his own measure, which reflects Trump's offer to trade border wall funding for temporary protections for some immigrants. It was quickly rejected by Democrats. The second vote is set for a bill approved by the Democratic-controlled House reopening government through Feb. 8, with no wall money, to give bargainers time to talk. Both measures are expected fall short of the 60 votes need to pass, leaving little hope they represent the clear path out of the mess. But the plan represents the first test of Senate Republicans' resolve behind Trump's insistence that agencies remain closed until Congress approves $5.7 billion to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. For Democrats, the votes will show whether there are any cracks in the so-far unified rejection of Trump's demand. Democrats on Tuesday ridiculed McConnell's bill, which included temporarily extended protections for 'Dreamer' immigrants, but also harsh new curbs on Central Americans seeking safe haven in the U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the GOP plan's immigration proposals were 'even more radical' than their past positions. 'The president's proposal is just wrapping paper on the same partisan package and hostage taking tactics,' offering to temporarily restore programs Trump himself tried to end in exchange for wall funding, Schumer said. McConnell accused Democrats of preferring 'political combat with the president' to resolving the 32-day partial federal shutdown. He said Democrats were prepared to abandon federal workers, migrants and all Americans 'just to extend this run of political theater so they can look like champions of the so-called resistance' against Trump. The confrontational tone underscored that there remained no clear end in sight to the closure. Amid cascading tales of civil servants facing increasingly dire financial tribulations from the longest federal shutdown in history, the Senate chaplain nudged his flock. 'As hundreds of thousands of federal workers brace for another painful payday, remind our lawmakers they can ease the pain,' Chaplain Barry Black intoned as the Senate convened. The upcoming vote on the Democratic plan marked a departure for McConnell, who had vowed to allow no votes on shutdown measures unless Trump would sign them. The White House views its latest offer as a test of whether Democratic leaders can hold their members together in opposition, said a person familiar with White House thinking who was not authorized to speak publicly. The administration also wants to show they are willing to negotiate, hoping it will push more blame onto Democrats, who are opposing negotiations until the government reopens. Public polls show Trump is taking the brunt of the blame from voters so far. 'How long are they going to continue to be obstructionists and not solve the problem and not reopen the government?' White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of Democrats. One freshman, Democrat Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia, a state that's home to many federal workers, was circulating a draft letter Tuesday urging Pelosi to propose a deal that would reopen the government and then consider border security legislation — including holding votes on Trump's demand for wall money — by the end of February. A similar effort was under way last week by a bipartisan group of senators. As the stalemate grinded on, Alaska Airlines said the closure would cause at least a three-week delay in its plan to start new passenger flights from Everett, Washington. Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, said the shutdown could slow home sales by 1 percent in coming months. And a restaurant in Red Bank, New Jersey, owned by musician Jon Bon Jovi joined the list of establishments serving free meals to furloughed federal workers. McConnell's bill largely reflects the proposal Trump described to the nation in a brief address Saturday. It would reopen federal agencies, revamp immigration laws and provide $5.7 billion to start building his prized border wall with Mexico — a project Democrats consider an ineffective, wasteful monument to a ridiculous Trump campaign promise. Republicans posted the 1,301-page measure online late Monday. Its details provoked Democrats, particularly immigration provisions Trump hadn't mentioned during his speech. The measure would provide a three-year extension of protections against deportation for 700,000 people covered by the Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Democrats want far more to be protected — Trump last year proposed extending the safeguards to 1.8 million people, including many who'd not yet applied — and want the program's coverage for so-called 'Dreamers' to be permanent. Trump has tried terminating the Obama-era DACA program, which shields people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, but has been blocked so far by federal judges. The GOP bill would revive, for three years, protections for people from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua who fled natural disasters or violence in their countries. Trump has ended that Temporary Protected Status program for those and several other countries. Republicans estimated the proposal would let 325,000 people remain in the U.S. But the GOP proposal contains new curbs, providing those protections only to those who are already in the U.S. legally and who earn at least 125 percent of the federal poverty limit. The bill would also, for the first time, require minors seeking asylum from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to process their applications at facilities the State Department is to establish in several Central American countries. Other new conditions include a limit of 15,000 of these minors who could be granted asylum. Currently, many asylum seekers apply as they're entering the U.S. and can remain here as judges decide their request, which can take several years. As a sweetener, the Republican measure also contains $12.7 billion for regions hit by hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters. The Democratic bill also includes the disaster aid. One White House official said Trump was open to counter-offers from Democrats. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, said Trump was also willing to use his proposed temporary extensions for 'Dreamers' as a way to seek long-term deal. The official said Trump would be willing to seek at least permanent legal status for 'Dreamers,' but probably not a path to citizenship. Democrats have refused to negotiate until Trump reopens the government. Trump is worried Democrats won't agree to a wall compromise if he relents, while Democrats say Trump would use the shutdown tactic again if it works. 'If we hold the employees hostage now, they're hostage forever,' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters. ___ Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Jill Colvin, Catherine Lucey, Kevin Freking, Matthew Daly and Laurie Kellman contributed.
  • Weeks before the Super Bowl comes to Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with boosters estimating a $400 million boon to Atlanta’s economy, a group of local residents is fighting for the stadium itself to contribute to the pot. >> Read more trending news  For a year and a half, some residents have argued that the stadium — which has been exempted from property taxes since it was built — should be paying into city, school and county tax funds. A lawsuit the group filed in 2017 estimates its tax bill at $26 million a year under June 2018 tax rates. If the suit filed against the Fulton County Board of Assessors were to succeed, it could have implications for other stadiums around the country that also are exempted from property taxes. Over the life of a 30-year agreement the Falcons have to use the stadium, it might generate more than $700 million in property taxes, according to estimates by attorney Wayne Kendall, who is representing the residents who filed the suit. His estimate is based on the $1.5-billion stadium paying current property tax rates for Fulton County, Atlanta and the Atlanta Public Schools across three decades. “I just believe the public is getting screwed on the deal,” Kendall said. “The Falcons aren’t paying the $26 million they should be paying, and everyone else will have to make up the difference.” >> Related: Atlanta’s airport braces for Super Bowl crush amid federal shutdown Fulton County property values have skyrocketed in recent years, and residents have complained about too-high tax bills. The county worked to reduce the tax burden by freezing values in 2017, a move they’re still fighting for in court. Residents also passed a number of referenda last year that are designed to limit some tax increases. The case was dismissed by Fulton County Superior Court, but Kendall appealed and the lawsuit was kept alive by the state appeals court last month. The suit, now back before Fulton County Superior Court, argues that the Fulton County Board of Assessors erred when it decided the stadium was tax exempt. Mercedes-Benz Stadium was funded through a combination of loans to the Falcons, money from the NFL, sales of permanent seat licenses and $200 million in bonds backed by Atlanta hotel-motel taxes. But it’s owned by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, a state agency that also owns the largest convention center in Georgia. The Falcons have an agreement with the authority to operate the stadium for 30 years. Kendall, in the suit, said that’s the issue: When the Falcons played at the Georgia Dome, the Dome was exempt from paying property taxes because it was owned by the state. >> Related: Can NFL commissioner Roger Goodell change the outcome of Saints-Rams game? At the Dome, the Falcons had an agreement to use the facility for 20 days each year. The rest of the time, the GWCCA managed the building and received all the revenue from concessions, merchandise and private suite sales. The Falcons only got revenue from ticket sales at their home games, the suit said. But at Mercedes-Benz, the agreement is different: The Falcons manage the stadium year-round, and receive the revenue from all events held in the building, not only ticket revenue. Kendall argues that under the new agreement,the Falcons are a long-term leaseholder, and long-term leases are taxable under state law. Victor Matheson, a sports economist at College of the Holy Cross, said while there are some stadiums that pay property taxes, the vast majority do not. There are questions about whether that’s right, he said — after all, “there’s no fundamental reason why a football stadium shouldn’t pay property taxes.” But he said the case is a long shot. If it succeeds, he said, it could have ripples for stadiums across the country, as many agreements are set up in a similar fashion. >> Related: Saints owner Gayle Benson responds to game-losing fumbled interference call “I wish them luck, but it’s probably unlikely,” he said. “If this domino were to fall … that would be a real game changer nationwide.” Still, he said, team owners are likely to seek other subsidies from local governments if a property tax exemption disappears. Both Fulton County and the Falcons declined to comment on the suit. But in their court filings, attorneys for the county Board of Assessors said the Falcons hadn’t been granted a long-term lease, but had instead been given a license to use the stadium property. Those cannot be taxed, under state law. Kendall said in filings that the final agreement on the stadium lease was never reviewed by the Board of Assessors as required by law. He also said the Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s tax exempt status was never approved in a statewide referendum and was therefore unconstitutional. >> Related: ‘Saints got robbed': Fan buys Atlanta billboards to protest missed pass interference call While an earlier judge dismissed the constitutionality claim among others, appeals court judges said that is one aspect that should be reconsidered. Kendall said he didn’t understand why Fulton County — which would benefit from more tax dollars — was arguing the case. “I don’t know why they’re fighting it,” he said. “It’s in their best interest to collect the taxes. Somehow, the roles have gotten perverted here.” Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College, said the San Francisco Giants are among the teams that pay property taxes at the stadium. In Massachusetts, he said, state law doesn’t allow teams to “simply disguise what in practice is true ownership” of a stadium. Sports economist Matheson said the exemptions amount to a “pretty big handout” to stadiums. >> Related: Super Bowl LIII: What time, what channel, how to watch “My gut reaction is it’s clever,” he said. “More power to them.”
  • The Latest on the Los Angeles teachers strike (all times local): 8 p.m. Los Angeles teachers have approved a contract deal between their union and school officials, ending a six-day strike in the nation's second-largest district. Although all votes haven't been counted, the union said Tuesday evening that a 'supermajority' of its 30,000 members voted in favor of the tentative agreement. Educators will go back to work Wednesday morning. They walked off the job Jan. 14. The agreement reached shortly before dawn Tuesday gives teachers a raise, additional support staff and smaller class sizes. The Board of Education is expected to move quickly to ratify the deal. ___ 2:30 p.m. A tentative deal between Los Angeles school officials and the teachers union includes a 6 percent raise for educators, a slight reduction in some class sizes and additional support staff, including nurses and librarians. The Los Angeles Unified School District released additional details after an agreement was reached Tuesday. Teachers will vote on the deal later in the day. Officials say every campus will see an increase in nursing services over the next three school years. Teachers complained that some schools only had a nurse on staff once a week. The new contract also eliminates a longstanding clause that gave the district authority over class sizes. Grades 4 through 12 will be reduced by one student during each of the next two school years and two pupils in 2021-2022. Teachers are expected back in classrooms on Wednesday. ___ 12:25 p.m. Striking Los Angeles teachers are optimistic their union leaders have negotiated a contract they can support. Thousands of striking teachers were jubilant at a rally Tuesday after the mayor and union negotiators announced a tentative agreement with the superintendent of the nation's second-largest school district. Some Los Angeles Unified School District teachers were already declaring victory despite a lack of details about the agreement. Some teachers at the boisterous rally outside City Hall say they trust their union and will vote for the pact later in the day unless it doesn't go far enough in reducing class size or weakens their health care. One high school teacher, Sharon Maloney, says she's leaning against supporting it because she's skeptical the district made enough concessions. She says she'll need to see the details before she supports it. ___ 9:52 a.m. Contentious contract negotiations have resulted in a tentative deal between Los Angeles school officials and the teachers union that will allow striking educators to return to classrooms on Wednesday. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the deal Tuesday. He says it requires the approval of the teachers and the Board of Education. Tens of thousands of members of United Teachers Los Angeles walked off the job Jan. 14 for the first time in 30 years. Schools stayed open, staffed by a skeleton crew of substitute teachers and administrators. The Los Angeles Unified School District is projecting a half-billion-dollar deficit this budget year and has billions obligated for pension payments and health coverage for retired teachers. ___ 7:46 a.m. The office of Mayor Eric Garcetti says leaders of the Los Angeles Unified School District and the striking teachers union will give an update on contract negotiations. Garcetti says the two sides will hold a press conference at 9:30 a.m. The mayor's office said earlier that the latest round of contract bargaining ended before dawn after 21 hours. The strike by United Teachers Los Angeles is the first against the huge school district in 30 years. It began on Jan. 14 following 21 months of unsuccessful talks. The latest bargaining began last week after efforts by the mayor to seek a resolution. ___ 7 a.m. The office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says the latest bargaining session between striking teachers and the Los Angeles Unified School District lasted 21 hours and ended before dawn Tuesday. The mayor's office says negotiators plan to reconvene at 9:15 a.m. The update on the status of talks comes as the strike by United Teachers Los Angeles enters its second week. Thousands of educators walked off the job and onto picket lines Jan. 14 for the first time in 30 years. The union and the school district are at odds over issues including salary, class sizes and support staff. Schools have stayed open during the strike with substitute teachers in classrooms. Negotiations between the two sides continued through the long holiday weekend. ___ 6:50 a.m. Hundreds of firefighters are marching in downtown Los Angeles to support public school teachers as their strike enters its second week. The firefighters are taking time out Tuesday morning from a conference of the International Association of Fire Fighters to back the teachers. Thousands of educators represented by United Teachers Los Angeles walked off the job and onto picket lines Jan. 14 for the first time in 30 years. The union and the Los Angeles Unified School District are at odds over issues including salary, class sizes and support staff. Schools have stayed open during the strike with substitute teachers in classrooms. Negotiations between the two sides continued through the long holiday weekend. The district is the second largest in the U.S. after New York City.
  • A retired fire battalion chief in Bayonne, New Jersey, was caught stealing artifacts from a museum and selling the items online, according to news reports. >> Read more trending news  Paul Avery, 64, who earns an annual pension of $130,000, was arrested Thursday and is facing theft charges after authorities found he was stealing pieces from the John T. Breannan Fire Museum and selling them on eBay, according to NewJersey.com. Although investigators were able to recover a few items, such as helmets and a speaking trumpet, they were not able to find a majority of the artifacts, NJ.com reported, and in fact are not even sure of all the pieces Avery may have stolen. The Jersey Journal reported the value of the missing items ranges in the thousands of dollars. >> Trending: Man upset over never having girlfriend arrested for mass shooting threat to kill girls Avery retired from the department in 2017 and had done work for the museum, which is how officials believe he gained access to the storage room where most of the missing items were stored. 
  • The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is responding to an officer-involved shooting in DeKalb County.  GBI is en route https://t.co/naHdaXYxvb — Michael Seiden (@SeidenWSBTV) January 23, 2019 It happened in the 2400 block of Candler Road in Decatur on Tuesday evening. Channel 2's Michael Seiden arrived at the scene and noticed a heavy police presence at the Chevron gas station. DeKalb County police Chief James Conroy said an officer was conducting a traffic stop around 8:35 p.m. on a BMW when one of the three people inside the car jumped out and ran behind the gas station and jumped a fence. TRENDING STORIES: Mom of 4 mysteriously disappears after leaving bar 'Some white people may have to die': UGA teaching assistant under fire for post Hundreds of people needed to participate in Super Bowl halftime show Conroy said the officers followed and, moments later, the man who the officer was chasing fired at least one shot at him. The chief told Channel 2 Action News the man missed and the officer returned fire, striking the suspect several times. The man is in critical condition and the two other people who were in the car were detained for questioning. Watch Channel 2 Action News This Morning, starting at 4:30 a.m. for the latest developments.