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Opinion Blogs
One Man's Opinion: A Culture of Life
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One Man's Opinion: A Culture of Life

One Man's Opinion: A Culture of Life
Photo Credit: WSB Radio/Bill Crane
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-District 7, Blue Ridge) at the Atlanta Press Club.

One Man's Opinion: A Culture of Life

"For this past couple of sessions, if not longer, we have been making it a priority in our caucus and in the Georgia House, to define and refine our state in its offering of a culture of life. These are not empty words, and our priorities are being supported with programs, with personnel and with funding," said Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-District 7, Blue Ridge) in his remarks to the Atlanta Press Club on Monday, March 9, 2020.

It is longtime considered conventional wisdom, particularly during election years, that the Republican Party would like to throw Grandma from the train, cut all social services and safety net spending to the quick, and give out only tax cuts to the rich and well-off. That is particularly in evidence on social media, though the Fourth and Fifth Estates hold their own share of the blame for perpetuating these misconceptions. 

Currently, in the great state of Georgia, it is a GOP-led House and General Assembly, as well as strong leadership from Georgia's Governor and State Senate which in actuality are proposing a stronger foundation across this state towards a culture of life. And they are putting their money where their mouths are. 

The AJC
General Assembly House Floor.
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One Man's Opinion: A Culture of Life

Photo Credit: The AJC
General Assembly House Floor.

Though HB 481 of two sessions ago, during the first legislative session for Governor Brian Kemp, codified significant restrictions for legal access to abortion (still pending under challenges in federal court), these new protections being proposed by this GOP body extend to almost every vulnerable population segment in the state. 

Following solid reporting by The Atlanta Journal & Constitution on the poor state and declining conditions of many assisted living, senior care and nursing homes, the House is responding with new regulatory authority, as well as additional funding for four new inspectors within the Department of Community Health. This problem, years in the making, won't be solved overnight, but both the regulators and their oversight (the General Assembly) now are placing a keener eye on these concerns. 

The House has also passed the first Parental Leave benefits for both mothers and fathers who are state government employees. This leave will be available not only for post-partum childbirth but to adoptive and foster parents. State House leaders hope this new benefit and offering will be catalytic for additional private sector consideration and adoption, versus cumbersome and often ineffective mandates. 

The freshly proposed House budget includes another $1,000 pay raise for all classroom teachers and certified educators, closing on funding a campaign promise of a $5K comp adjustment by Governor Kemp, and bringing Georgia teacher salaries to the highest in the southeast. And for the third or fourth consecutive budget cycle, the General Assembly and Governor will be fully funding Q.B.E., the Quality Basic Education Act, enacted by Democratic state leadership in 1985, but never fully funded until the administrations of Governors Nathan Deal and Brian Kemp. 

And though the budget wrangling between the House, State Senate and Governor's office is far from done, the House is taking a hard stand on re-storing funds proposed for reduction in the GBI Crime Lab, with particular sensitivity to the backlog of rape kits across the state, finally eliminated in 2018. In the criminal justice arena, the House also proposes restoration of budget cuts proposed for Accountability Courts, which are particularly critical in reversing the challenged life trajectories of many addicted to alcohol and drugs. 

© 2019 Cox Media Group.

FILE: Gov. Brian Kemp. (Photo: ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

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Governor announces plans to reduce testing in Georgia

Photo Credit: © 2019 Cox Media Group.

FILE: Gov. Brian Kemp. (Photo: ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

And despite this apparent spending spree in support of many of the state's most challenged populations, the same leadership team is proposing an across the board individual income tax rate cut, to a flat tax rate of 5.375 percent for all individuals and a new corporate rate of 5.75. This effectively will return roughly a quarter billion in currently collected revenues primarily to individual taxpayers. 

The House caucus and leadership team have their work cut out for them, because in addition to differences of opinion with the other chamber and Executive branch, there are 180 members of this House, each often with their own opinions on budget priorities. And 'cross-over' day, requiring passage by at least one chamber for a budget or other legislative initiative to live on, looms imminently later this week. 

So as with the Corona Virus looming large in all headlines and news coverage, it is important to separate facts from fiction, innuendo from institutional memory and budget realities as well as to occasionally READ budget documents, as that is the most proven way to really see where your elected officials actually place their priorities. Happy reading.

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News

  • It’s a sweet deal for health care workers battling to contain the coronavirus. Krispy Kreme announced in a news release that beginning Monday, it will give away a dozen of its Original Glazed doughnuts to health care workers. The promotion will last through May 11. “Just go to a Krispy Kreme drive-thru, tell us what you need and show us your employer badge,” Krispy Kreme said in its release. “That’s it. Pick up some free dozens on the way to work for you and your colleagues, or maybe a free dozen on your way home to family after a long shift.” Krispy Kreme also announced that on Saturdays, customers who buy at least one dozen Original Glazed doughnuts will receive another dozen for free. The free dozen doughnuts, which will be handed out to drive-thru, pickup and delivery customers. will also include a smiley-face doughnut, Krispy Kreme said in its release.
  • You can’t visit a Disney theme park these days due to restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus. That doesn’t mean Disney cannot come to you. On Wednesday, the Disneyland Dapper Dans went online to sing an all-time Disney classic, “When You Wish Upon A Star,” the theme park said in its blog. For years, the Dapper Dans have harmonized in the Main Street U.S.A. section of Disney theme parks. With a repertoire of songs that include “Grim Grinning Ghosts” and “When I See An Elephant Fly,” the Dapper Dans will continue to perform while the parks remain closed. People can watch the group’s #VoicesFromHome performance and vote for their next song on the Disney Parks Blog.
  • President Donald Trump signed the largest relief package in U.S. history on Friday afternoon, paving the way for $2 trillion to be injected into an economy stunted by the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The bill will bolster unemployment insurance and pour money into businesses, health-care providers and state and local governments. In addition, some 80 percent of U.S. adults will see stimulus checks of up to $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for couples. The federal government will also include $500 for each child or dependent. How much will you get and how is it determined? Here’s a look at the plan. Note: The amount the check will be is be based on your 2019 tax return if it has been filed, or your 2018 tax return if you have not yet filed this year. Those filing income tax returns as “single” with adjusted gross incomes up to $75,000 a year will be eligible for a $1,200 check. The payment amount drops by $5 for every $100 in income above $75,000. Those who file as “married filing jointly” can receive a check for $2,400 check if their adjusted gross income was below $150,000. Married couples will get checks on a sliding scale up to $198,000. Married couples will also receive $500 for each child they claimed on their tax return. If you filed as “head of household” you are eligible for a $1,200 check and $500 for each child you claimed if your adjusted gross income was $112,500 or less. You can receive a check on a sliding scale if you earn up to $136,500 annually. Those who file “head of household” are typically single parents). If you receive a Social Security check and do not exceed the income limits above, you are eligible to receive the coronavirus relief check. If you receive a Social Security check and do not make enough money to require you to file a tax return, you will still receive a check as long as you received an SSA-1099 form. The form is sent annually and includes your Social Security benefits statement. The check will be delivered to you via the usual way you get your Social Security payment. People who receive disability checks from Social Security are eligible for the special payment. Where are the checks sent? If you have filed a tax return for 2018 or 2019, the Internal Revenue Service will send the check to the bank account number you used for the direct deposit information included on that return. Or, if you did not include direct deposit information on your tax form, the IRS will mail the check to you at the address you included on your tax form. If you did not file a 2019 tax return yet, the IRS will check to see if you filed a 2018 return and use that information to send your check. If you get a Social Security check, the IRS will deliver the stimulus check in the same way you get your Social Security check each month. Will taxes be taken out of the check? No, the checks will not be taxed. Whatever amount you qualify for, you will receive that amount. When will I get it? Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin has said the checks are scheduled to begin being distributed on April 6, though that is not a set date. How can I find out how much I will get? The IRS has created a webpage for information about the checks, but much of the information has not been posted. The Washington Post created this calculator to help you estimate the amount you will receive. You can answer a couple of questions and the calculator will estimate the amount you will likely receive.
  • At least 722,000 people worldwide – including more than 142,000 people in the United States – have been infected with the new coronavirus, and the number of deaths from the outbreak continues to rise. Officials are attempting to contain the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. as hospitals brace for unprecedented patient surges. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is tracking cases in the U.S. here. Live updates for Monday, March 30, continue below: Field hospital being built in New York’s Central Park Update 8:55 a.m. EDT March 30: Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced Sunday that officials are building a field hospital in New York City’s Central Park to help respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re adding hospital beds,” de Blasio said Sunday. “You’ll see an unusual sight in Central Park. We’re working with Mount Sinai (Health System) to open a field hospital in Central Park’s East Meadow.” Officials said the 68-bed hospital will begin to accept patients from Mount Sinai Hospital on Tuesday. Trump weighs in on coronavirus response in new interview Update 8:38 a.m. EDT March 30: President Donald Trump weighed in on the coronavirus pandemic in a Monday morning interview with “Fox and Friends.” When asked whether the country has enough equipment to deal with the crisis, he pointed to efforts to build a 2,900-bed mobile hospital and medical centers in New York City, and said “massive planeloads” of deliveries and thousands of ventilators were on the way. 'We're delivering so much equipment, nobody's ever really seen anything like it,' he said, touting his relationship with governors of states that have been hit hard by the virus. Trump said he expected the pandemic to peak in the U.S. “around Easter,” and by June 1, “the deaths will be at a very low number.” He said that he reassessed his initial '15 days to slow the spread' plan after listening to advice from National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci and coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah L. Birx. “We picked the end of April as the day where we can see some real progress,” he said of the new timeline to continue social distancing through April 30. He added that if the government hadn't 'shut [the economy] down,' up to 2.2 million people here could have died from the virus. Trump also said new, rapid coronavirus tests could be available as soon as this week. Additionally, he slammed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's criticism of his response to the outbreak, calling her 'a sick puppy.' “I think it’s a disgrace to her country, her family,” he said. Israeli prime minister self-isolating after possible coronavirus exposure Update 8:30 a.m. EDT March 30: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel was self-isolating Monday after one of his aides tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to multiple reports. Officials told Reuters that Netanyahu was scheduled to take a coronavirus test Tuesday. He previously tested negative for COVID-19 on March 15, according to Reuters. Officials said in a statement obtained by CNN that Netanyahu’s doctor would determine when to end the self-isolation. Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for 2021 Update 8:15 a.m. EDT March 30: Organizers announced Monday that the Tokyo Olympics, which had been set to take place over the summer, have been rescheduled for 2021. Tokyo organizers said Monday the opening ceremony will take place on July 23, 2021 — almost exactly one year after the games were due to start this year. “The schedule for the games is key to preparing for the games,' Tokyo organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori said. “This will only accelerate our progress.” Adviser to British PM Boris Johnson experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, self-isolating Update 7:26 a.m. EDT March 30: Just days after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he tested positive for coronavirus, one of his chief advisers is experiencing symptoms and has decided to self-isolate. According to The Associated Press, Dominic Cummings said he started feeling sick over the weekend and has been staying at home. Meanwhile, Johnson took to Twitter on Monday morning to say he’s “been working from home and continuing to lead the government’s response to coronavirus.' >> See the tweet here FDA issues ‘emergency use authorization’ of anti-malaria drugs for coronavirus treatment Update 6:45 a.m. EDT March 30: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an “emergency use authorization' to allow two anti-malaria drugs donated to the Strategic National Stockpile to possibly be used to treat coronavirus patients, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced in a news release Sunday. HHS said it “accepted 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate donated by Sandoz, the Novartis generics and biosimilars division, and 1 million doses of chloroquine phosphate donated by Bayer Pharmaceuticals' on Sunday. The authorization allows the donated drugs “to be distributed and prescribed by doctors to hospitalized teen and adult patients with COVID-19, as appropriate, when a clinical trial is not available or feasible,” the release said. In addition, the authorization “requires that fact sheets that provide important information about using chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate in treating COVID-19 be made available to health care providers and patients, including the known risks and drug interactions,” according to the FDA’s website. Read more here or here. New York City to fine people who violate social-distancing rules Update 5:20 a.m. EDT March 30: New York City will fine those who fail to follow social-distancing guidelines, officials said. According to WPIX-TV, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the news in a Sunday news conference. “We’re going to give people every chance to listen, and if anyone doesn’t listen, then they deserve a fine at this point,” he said, adding that people could face fines of $250 to $500 if they continue to violate the rules after receiving a warning from police. The city has already shut down nonessential businesses and instructed to residents to stay inside when possible, WPIX reported. Budget airline EasyJet grounds entire fleet Update 4:32 a.m. EDT March 30: British airline EasyJet announced that it is grounding all of its 344 planes amid the coronavirus pandemic, ITV is reporting. According to CNN, the budget carrier’s decision takes effect Monday. “At this stage, there can be no certainty of the date for restarting commercial flights,” the Luton-based airline said in a statement. The carrier tweeted Monday that entitlements for customers whose flights were canceled “are available for up to a year after your flight was originally due to depart.” >> See the tweets here 'I Love Rock 'n' Roll' songwriter Alan Merrill dies of complications from virus Update 3:23 a.m. EDT March 30: Alan Merrill, best known for writing the hit song “I Love Rock 'n' Roll,” died Sunday morning after experiencing coronavirus complications. He was 69. According to USA Today, Merrill’s daughter, Laura, said in a Facebook post that her father died at a New York City hospital. “I was given two minutes to say my goodbyes before I was rushed out,” she wrote of Merrill, who also was a guitarist and vocalist. “He seemed peaceful, and as I left, there was still a glimmer of hope that he wouldn’t be a ticker on the right-hand side of the CNN/Fox News screen.” She said she walked home and received the news of his death by the time she reached her apartment. “I’ve made a million jokes about the ‘Rona’ and how it’ll ‘getcha’ ... boy, do I feel stupid,” she continued. “If anything can come of this, I beg of you to take this seriously. Money doesn’t matter. People are dying. You don’t think it’ll happen to you or your strong family. It has.” >> See the post here ″I Love Rock 'n' Roll' was originally released by the Arrows, a band Merrill was part of, in 1975, according to “Entertainment Tonight.” Seven years later, rocker Joan Jett and the Blackhearts released a version of the song, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts, the outlet reported. Jett took to Twitter to pay tribute to Merrill on Sunday, sending “thoughts and love” to his loved ones and the music community. “I can still remember watching the Arrows on TV in London and being blown away by the song that screamed hit to me,” Jett wrote. “With deep gratitude and sadness, wishing him a safe journey to the other side.” >> See the tweet here News of Merrill’s death came the same day that country music star Joe Diffie died from the virus, “ET” reported. Costco to temporarily change store hours Update 1:31 a.m. EDT March 30: In an effort to help protect its customers, Costco announced it will temporarily implement new weekday closing hours for its locations nationwide. Beginning Monday, all its warehouses will close at 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and its gas stations will close at 7 p.m. However, it said some specific locations’ hours would be different. The wholesale giant said its weekend hours would remain the same. For its members ages 60 and older and those with physical impairments, Costco has special operating hours from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Costco said it has made some temporary department changes to create more space for social distancing and is following CDC recommendations to minimize risk to its members and employees. U.S. cases soar past 142,000, including more than 2,500 deaths Update 12:39 a.m. EDT March 30: The number of novel coronavirus cases in the United States soared past 142,000 across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands early Sunday. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, there are at least 142,502 confirmed U.S. cases of the virus, which have resulted in at least 2,506 deaths. Worldwide, there are 722,435 confirmed cases and 33,997 deaths from the virus. U.S. cases outnumber those in any other nation, including the 97,689 reported in Italy and the 82,149 confirmed in China. Of the confirmed deaths, 966 have occurred in New York, 200 in Washington state, 161 in New Jersey and 151 in Louisiana. In terms of diagnosed cases, New York remains the hardest-hit with at least 59,746 confirmed cases, followed by New Jersey with 13,386, California with 6,284 and Michigan with 5,488. Four other states have each confirmed at least 4,000 novel coronavirus cases, including: • Massachusetts: 4,955, including 48 deaths • Florida: 4,950, including 60 deaths • Illinois: 4,596, including 66 deaths • Washington: 4,493, including 200 deaths Meanwhile, Louisiana and Pennsylvania have confirmed at least 3,000 novel coronavirus infections each, while Texas, Georgia and Colorado have confirmed at least 2,000 cases each. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • A Florida man is facing several charges after he told a deputy he tested positive for COVID-19 and coughed toward the deputy, the Martin County Sheriff’s Office said. Deputies said Christian Perez, 23, was taken into custody after he was stopped for reckless driving. Perez reportedly told deputies he had COVID-19, so deputies provided him with a protective mask to cover his mouth. Deputies said at one point, Perez removed the mask and began intentionally coughing toward a deputy. The deputy got the mask back on Perez’s mouth to reduce the risk of contamination, officials said. Deputies said Perez was charged with driving under the influence, driving without a license, assault on a deputy and threatening a public servant. Sheriff William Snyder said men and women of law enforcement encounter enough dangers daily without actions like this. “We have zero tolerance for this despicable behavior, and anyone who threatens the health and lives of my deputies will face the maximum charges,' Snyder said.
  • A metro Atlanta housekeeper says her services are more in demand now that coronavirus has hit. Four years after launching her business, Teresa Goodman tells WSB that her housekeeping appointments are way up.  'Mine have doubled or tripled,' says Goodman. 'I have clients, I only go to them like once a month. But when the coronavirus came in, I go once a week.'  She says homeowners, anxious over the bug, want to make sure their houses stay healthy.  'Everyone wants their home clean and sanitized, so really it picked up for me,' Goodman says. She has begun carrying an additional DIY alcohol-based disinfectant that she begins using on the doorknob as soon as she steps up to a client's door. Frequently-grabbed places like closets, appliance handles, and drawer pulls get the spritz, too.  Homeowners like to see Goodman clean and disinfect the rooms where they hang out the most, and the items they touch the most.  'Telephones, TV remotes, the arm of the chairs, computers, faucets,' she explains.   Goodman admits that she was a bit nervous at first to keep going into clients' homes amid the viral concerns, but says the job is essential to her family.  'I am, but it's a business. You got to do what you've got to do for your family. I just stay prayed up,' says Goodman, who adds that the job is important to her clients.  'They trust me to do a good job,' she says. Goodman changes gloves in between one room and the next, and noted that her attention to detail and even her products have led to smiles.  'A neighbor came over and said, 'You know that Lysol you've got is worth more than gold now!' We just laughed, laughed, laughed. I said, 'You're right.''  She hopes the new handwashing and extra-cleanliness habits people are forming stick with us post- pandemic.  'Don't wait until after the coronavirus,' says Goodman. 'Say they say it leaves or whatever, you want to stop. Wrong thing. Keep doing what you're doing. Just keep your house sanitized--or call me. And I'll come do it for you.