Capitol Update – February 7th, 2014

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Roads Cleared, News Coverage Still Encountering Snow Related Congestion

While last week’s winter weather is in the rear view mirror, the postmortem evaluation of the government’s response continues to receive considerable coverage.   The General Assembly, however, has moved right back into business as usual.


Legislation, Study Committees, and Rumors to Watch

– Education –

Senate Bill 288 moved through senate without opposition. The bill from Sen. Charlie Bethel (R-Dalton) would prohibit public schools from participating in interscholastic athletic events officiated by outside organizations, such as The Georgia High School Association, unless those third party groups release annual financial reports.


In December we learned that the GA Dept. of Education will be launching a College and Career Pathways initiative, which will require students to select a career path that will shape their high school course work.  Rep. Eddie Lumsden (R-Armuchee) introduced House Bill 766, the “Work Based Learning Act”, which would permit schools – in collaboration with the Department of Labor and the Technical College System of Georgia – to award secondary credit for approved off campus work to students 16 and over.


Sen. Mike Dugan’s (R-Carrollton) Senate Bill 283 passed the Senate and moved to the House this week.  The bill would authorize schools to educate students regarding “traditional winter celebrations,” and officially permit the use of “traditional greetings” like “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah.” It’s a distressing sign of the times that a bill like this is considered necessary.


– Child Welfare –

Sen. Tommie Williams (R- Lyons) is encouraging support of  “Ava’s Law” (House Bill 309 & Senate Bill 191), which would require Georgia private insurance companies to cover treatment for autism.  According to the CDC, autism spectrum disorders affect 1 in 88 children.  Gov. Deal’s 2015 budget included proposed funding for such coverage in the State Employee Health Plan, though neither the Governor’s proposal nor this legislation would result in coverage under Medicaid or PeachCare.


A bill to privatize most of the state’s child welfare services was introduced this week by Senator Unterman (R-Buford). The legislation, Senate Bill 350, would require the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) to develop a plan by January of 2015 by which it would contract with a limited number of regional lead agencies to provide the vast majority of child welfare services that are now, at least in part, offered by the state. The program would be phased in over the course of two years.

While lead agencies would be allowed to provide up to 35 percent of the services needed within a region, the law would require that they contract with other local agencies to provide the majority of services.

Contracts between the state and lead agencies would be for five years with DFCS having the ability to extend the contract for an additional three years. While DFCS would no longer be a direct service provider, it would retain responsibility for providing oversight of the contracted agencies.

As an incentive to agencies to find suitable permanent placements for children in their care, the law would fund agencies with per-child payments for a maximum of six months. After six months agencies would be required to pick up the tab for children that remain in their care. Likewise, agencies would not be eligible for per child payments for any child returning to the agency within 12 months of a permanent placement.

The reform is modeled after similar efforts in Florida and more than a dozen other states over the last couple of decades and has been driven by Georgia’s continued failures to adequately serve the children in its care.

While privatization is supported by many state leaders, including the Governor and Lt. Governor, opponents to the change say that it is being done too quickly and without considering ways to reform the system without privatization.

Evidence from Florida and other states shows that privatization can have beneficial effects, including improved safety for the children in care and a reduction in the number of children in state custody.

Yesterday, the legislation was favorably voted out of the Healthcare Delivery Subcommittee of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. A stakeholder meeting was expected to be held today.


– Welfare Reform –

 Representing an extension of a 2012 law requiring mandatory drug testing for Georgia welfare recipients, Rep. Greg Morris (R-Vidalia) has introduced House Bill 772 which would impose the same standard for receipt of Food Stamps. This will be an interesting piece of legislation to watch, as a Federal Court overturned  similar legislation in Florida.


– Ethics and Government Reform –

 Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is part of a coalition proposing some interesting changes. Two have received attention in the past week: First is a request to require conference committee reports be filed by day’s end of the 39th day of legislative session. This seems a wise and rational move, as it would protect Georgians from having to pass a bill in order to find out what is in it.  In addition, Senate Resolution 7 would allocate permanent funding that would provide for the separation of the Georgia ethics commission from the office of the Governor.


Upcoming Events

Our friends at the American Federation for Children are hosting a nonpartisan candidate training school in Atlanta on February 22nd. The training is free but requires registration to attend. For more information, please see this flyer for the event or email Brian Pleva to register.



Despite last week’s encounter with snow, Georgia is not the state you expect to be producing Winter Olympic medalists.  However, as the Sochi Games kick off today, the Peach State is indeed represented by Douglasville native Elana Meyers, who will be seeking her second Olympic metal in Bobsledding.

After last week many Georgians likely have a new found respect for those able to control a vehicle on ice at high rates of speed.  Check out Meyers’ team’s story of determination and perseverance here, and be sure to tune in to cheer her on as she represents our great State.


Thanks to Jamie Lord, our director of government affairs, and Jacob Stubbs, our legislative intern and John Jay Fellowship alumnus for their able contributions to this update.

Snow Can’t Stop This Crowd for School Choice

By Dr. Danielle LeSure, GCO’s Director of Education Policy

Amazingly, over 600 students, parents, teachers, and school leaders crowded the Capitol in the middle of a snow storm to cheer for school choice options—charter schools, public school transfers, special needs and tax credit scholarship programs— on Tuesday, January 28.


Students have their photo taken to share their support of School Choice through social media.

After touring the Capitol and visiting with legislators, students were greeted by never ending snow flurries. While waiting for the rally to start on the steps of the Capitol, Governor Nathan Deal (GA) announced the closing of all state government buildings. Georgia Center for Opportunity’s Vice President Eric Cochling approached the crowd of students that were dancing to the song “Happy” from Despicable Me to deliver the news and lead everyone in a cheer. From the streets surrounding the Capitol you could hear voices shouting “more school choice, more school choice.”


Eric Cochling addresses the crowd at the rally and leads the cheers of “More school Choice!”

Though we were unable to hear from our scheduled speakers Governor Deal and actress Keshia Knight Pulliam who are strong supporters of choice, we did get to hear from those who benefit most from school choice—Georgia students.  As they left, their footprints in the snow symbolized Georgia’s journey in the school choice movement. While we have many options in Georgia, there are still over 5,000 students on waiting lists for charter schools and many more students longing for a better option but private school costs are not affordable for their parents.

Georgia does not stand alone in its efforts to increase support for school choice. During the week of the rally, there were over 5,500 events nationwide celebrating school choice options. This is a record high according to an article by National School Choice Week.


Two students showcasing the signs they prepared for the rally.

If you are or know of a parent who needs more information about choice or would like to become an advocate please visit the Georgia Parents Alliance. Together, we can continue to make a difference!

Capitol Update – Snowpocalypse 2014

Should you have any questions or comments about the content of this update, please email Eric Cochling.

Weather Dominates Week

As the General Assembly meets today for day 14 of the session, the subject dominating the headlines is the two days of utter chaos on Georgia’s roads this week. With so many children stranded at school and commuters stranded in their cars, the official response to the snow quickly took on political dimensions.

Our 5th Annual School Choice Celebration and Rally was cut short by the weather, but not before many of our participants were able to voice their support of school choice with their legislators. Thanks to all of our partner organizations, volunteers, and participating schools for braving the weather to show their support for more school choice options in Georgia. We’d like to especially thank the Georgia Charter Schools Association, Agudath Israel of America, Americans for Prosperity, Grace Scholars, Students First, and Hennessy Transportation for their partnership in hosting the event.

Legislation, Study Committees, and Rumors to Watch

– Education –

Given the high demand for Tax Credit Scholarships, Rep. Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs), introduced House Bill 759 that would raise the cap on the program from $58 million annually to $100 million, nearly doubling the size of the program.

In other education news, supporters of Parent Trigger legislation (House Bill 123) are hoping to see it resurrected this year after gaining some traction last session but ultimately failing to make it out of the General Assembly.

Finally, whatever your thoughts about the DeKalb School Board, it does seem strange that the private organization accrediting our school districts (SACS) is, itself, not subject to transparency, especially in regard to how it makes its accreditation decisions. Those decisions impact the public interest in a major way and should be open to public scrutiny. The Attorney General is right to be pressing the case.

– Adoption and Child Welfare –

Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville) introduced House Bill 524 last session with the goal of making it easier for adopted individuals to access their original birth certificates and the information about birth parents they contain. The legislation, which is being reconsidered this session, was met with opposition by those concerned that disclosing information about birth parents could discourage adoption.

House Bill 771, sponsored by Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine), would effectively lift the statute of limitations related to civil claims for damages brought by victims of childhood sexual abuse. Currently, the law requires these claims to be brought by a victim within five years of turning 18 years old. Should this bill become law, suit could be brought against a defendant at any time.

– Constitutional Convention? –

Citing a crushing federal debt burden, continued overspending, out of control federal mandates, and overreaching constitutional interpretations, Senate Resolution 736, sponsored by Sen. Cecil Staton (R-Macon), calls for a constitutional convention of the states to amend the US Constitution. Presumably, the convention would allow for the states to address the problems cited by the resolution. Of course, any convention would also open the Constitution up to mischief, so caution is in order.

– Expansion of Medical Marijuana –

Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) introduced House Bill 885, referred to as Haleigh’s Hope Act (warning: link is to a heartbreaking video) on Tuesday which would expand the permissible medical uses for marijuana to include the treatment of seizure disorders. Under current Georgia law, extracts made from marijuana may be used to treat cancer and glaucoma patients only. Unlike other states that have recently legalized the recreational use of marijuana, House Bill 885 specifically states that it is not intended to encourage recreational use and requires the delivery of the drug to be accomplished in the ways virtually all other drugs are delivered (i.e. via pill, liquid extract, etc.) and forbids smoking as a form of delivery.

Upcoming Events

Our friends at the American Federation for Children are hosting a nonpartisan candidate training school in Atlanta on February 22nd. The training is free but requires registration to attend. For more information, please see this flyer for the event or email Brian Pleva to register.

Thanks to Jamie Lord, our director of government affairs, and Jacob Stubbs, our legislative intern and John Jay Fellowship alumnus for their able contributions to this update.


CBS Covers Breakthrough Norcross Reception at NHS

Monday afternoon, December 2, Breakthrough Norcross celebrated the completion of its three-part “listening tour” with an authentic White House Reception held at Norcross High School.

Prior to the reception, the last of three working meetings were held in which nearly 30 representatives from numerous business, non-profits, churches, and schools reviewed and made final contributions to the Breakthrough Norcross collective impact strategy.

To aid in celebrating this great milestone, Walter Scheib, former White House Executive Chef to the Clinton and Bush administrations, prepared a wonderful meal for meeting participants, as well as numerous other community representatives invited to hear about Breakthrough Norcross’  cradle to career plan for collective impact.

For those unable to join us, CBS Atlanta covered the event.  See their re-cap here.

Introducing the Breakthrough Ambassadors

A wise friend once said to me, “Know where you’re going before you start running.” For any successful organization, having a solid and precise mission is an imperative. The Breakthrough Ambassadors recently selected their first class of senior ambassadors to accomplish this imperative for the Breakthrough Ambassadors program.

The Breakthrough Ambassadors evolved out of the Breakthrough Norcross collective impact initiative. The inaugural class of approximately 100 students will be exposed to special opportunities such as meeting with executives and professionals from a variety of sectors, and receiving career training and career pathway orientation.

By establishing a precise mission, purpose and characteristics, the Breakthrough Ambassadors now have a clear understanding of how their organization will benefit not only ambassadors but also the community in which they are serving.

Breakthrough Ambassador mission:

  • To remove barriers to opportunity in order to provide everyone with an equal chance to succeed.

Breakthrough Ambassador purpose:

  • A mentoring organization that provides service, leadership development, and networking  opportunities to enhance post high school success

Breakthrough Ambassador characteristics:

  • Innovative- Focus on generating new ideas to solve community challenges
  • Engaged- Operate at a grassroots level to stay relevant to, and to learn from, the communities we serve
  • Influential- Conduct ourselves to develop the expertise, talent and network of relationship to enhance our ability to bring change
  • Trusted- Strive to be reliable, experienced and honest in all we do

Breakthrough Ambassadors will now serve through the broader Breakthrough Norcross Community collective impact network by assisting partners who are working to improve our community. These ambassadors will carry this mission through life as they grow into our future community leaders.