GCO Goes to the Nation’s Capitol

GCO Goes to the Nation’s Capitol

On June 28th, GCO’s Eric Cochling traveled to Washington, D.C. to be part of the Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform meeting, which took an in-depth look into “programs and legislation aimed at rehabilitating offenders, facilitating a successful transition from prison to community, and reducing recidivism.”

GCO provided a written testimony to our nation’s leaders but was also instrumental in providing the opportunity for William C. McGahan, Chairman of Georgia Works!, to testify before the committee. If you’re interested in hearing the committee’s conversation, you can view the meeting video online.


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Hiring Well, Doing Good

Georgia Center for Opportunity hosted the inaugural “Hiring Well, Doing Good” breakfast on September 13th. The event brought together close to 150 business, community and nonprofit leaders to discuss ways to help the chronically un- and under-employed to find work.

We heard from business leaders like Phil Stroud of Tip Top Poultry and Luke Marklin of Uber, who highlighted their companies’ efforts to provide jobs and training to individuals who struggle – for various reasons – to find and maintain steady employment. Phil told the story of an employee who, through a lapse in judgement, spent 10 years in prison – but is now working in a management position for Tip Top, earning $18 an hour for his family.

Bruce Deel, founder and CEO of City of Refuge, shared about his organization’s success in empowering some of Georgia’s most vulnerable individuals and families to become independent and self-sufficient. City of Refuge will soon graduate its 20th class of culinary students, many of whom are formerly homeless, but are now equipped with the skills to obtain gainful employment in some of our city’s top restaurants. And Frank Fernandez of the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation inspired us with the creative ways his organization is encouraging construction contractors working at the stadium to hire returning citizens and generate long-term jobs for the unemployed.

We are grateful to Seth Millican and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce for cohosting “Hiring Well, Doing Good.” We were especially encouraged that 100% of survey respondents found the event helpful, 91% left feeling better informed about the chronically un- and under-employed and how to help, and more than 40 connections were made with human service organizations. It was great to see the conversations happening and connections being made both before and after the event, and we’re excited about what develops from this event.

If you’d like to learn more, please visit www.GeorgiaOpportunity.org/Hiring-Well-Resources.

Criminal Justice Reforms: Increasing Access to Work

Criminal Justice Reforms: Increasing Access to Work

On April 27th, Governor Deal signed into law the most recent round of criminal justice reforms in Georgia. Senate Bill 367 enacts many of the recommendations of the state’s Council on Criminal Justice Reform.

Among the reforms are a number that will improve the ability of returning citizens to obtain employment, a key to reducing recidivism, including:

– Allowing first-time offenders to meaningfully shield their criminal record under the state’s First Offender Act,

– Providing greater access to occupational licensing, provided that the offense was not reasonably related to the license being sought,

– Reinstating driver’s licenses for those convicted of drug-related offenses that did not involve a motor vehicle,

– Expanding funding for Parental Accountability Courts that are problem-solving courts designed to reduce incarceration and constructively encourage parents to support their children. See our 2015 report on PACs here.

GCO is pleased that the reforms included recommendations we first made in 2013.

2016 Legislative Recap

The 2016 legislative session came to a close about half past midnight on the morning of March 25th. After 40 legislative days of battling over policy priorities, members of the House and Senate ended the year with cheering and tossing torn paper like confetti in the chambers.

Georgia passed a version of the ABLE Act, modeled after the federal version which passed in 2014. The new law provides for tax-free savings accounts to cover qualified disability expenses such as housing, education, or transportation, while also not affecting a disabled person’s eligibility for social security or food assistance benefits.

Tax credits for rural health care:
Modeled after the successful Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which provides education choice to more than 13,000 students, a new tax credit was created to help provide healthcare in rural Georgia. The new law allows individuals and corporations to receive a credit for donating to a rural health care organization, defined as a nonprofit that must treat patients who are indigent or on Medicaid or Medicare, and must be located in a rural county. Credits are capped at $50 million in the first year (2017), $60 million in year two, and $70 million in year three.

After three years of trying, the General Assembly passed one of their top priorities: a Religious Freedom bill. The bill mirrored language from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was signed by President Bill Clinton and adopted by dozens of states, requiring government to prove a “compelling governmental interest” before it interferes with a person’s exercise of religion. It also included a clause saying it could not be used to allow discrimination already banned by state or federal law. However, Georgia’s business community weighed in, asking Governor Deal for a veto, with threats of relocating if it were to become law. Ultimately, Governor Deal vetoed the bill, saying it was unnecessary and did not reflect Georgia as a “warm, friendly and loving people.”

A new law was created with the intention of helping children in the foster care system (or helping them to avoid it altogether). The law prioritizing placing children with family members or kinship caregivers for a short time, when it is in their best interest. It also gives a legal framework for families to grant Power of Attorney to these relatives or caregivers who are temporarily caring for the children.

Governor Deal announced during his State of the State address in January that he was holding off the pursuit of his large education reform package until 2017 to give the legislature and the education community more time to fully vet the proposal. This signaled that it would be a lighter year than usual for education legislation. However, a few bills were introduced and fewer still saw final passage.

All teachers (and other state employees) saw a 3% raise included in the budget.
A bill passed (but has not yet been signed by the Governor) that reduces the percentage of student achievement that factors into a teacher’s evaluation from 50% to 30% and reduces the number of in-classroom observations for some teachers. HB 364l could also make Georgia the only state in the nation with statewide testing in grades 1-12. The Governor has until Tuesday, May 2nd to sign or veto the bill.

A bill to create a new tax credit scholarship program for low/middle income children.
A bill, called “Junior GI”, to give children of military families scholarships for use during K-12 years.
A bill to give children eligible for the Georgia Special Needs Scholarship more flexibility in how they use their scholarship dollars.


Meet Healthy Families Initiative Certified Trainer Shay Marlowe


“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

Shay is a graduate of Duluth High School and Michigan State University. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in 2006, Shay returned to Gwinnett to work fulltime at the Gwinnett Children’s Shelter and as a volunteer at the A. Worley Brown Boys and Girls Club. Shay was named “Volunteer of the Year” at the Brown Boys and Girls Club in 2007 and went on to become a mentor for Big Brother Big Sister of Metro-Atlanta.

During his time at the Gwinnett Children’s Shelter, Shay facilitated fatherhood classes, using the “24/7 Dad” curriculum, to teenage fathers from Gwinnett County high schools and a group of fathers serving their final year of incarceration at Philips State Prison in Buford.

When Shay is not facilitating classes for Georgia Center for Opportunity, he can be found helping local veterans obtain jobs as part of his fulltime work at Goodwill of North Georgia. Shay continues to be a mentor for Big Brother Big Sister and he enjoys playing sports in his free time. His favorite quote comes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

Many Georgia families are struggling relationally and financially. Divorce is common, and cohabitation and unwed childbirth are on the rise. Even many families that remain intact struggle to cover basic living expenses. You might not know where to begin to help.

The Healthy Families Initiative (HFI) is a community-based collaboration between individuals, churches, and businesses focused on transforming relationships and families in the Norcross and Peachtree Corners area. Our goal is to increase healthy relationships, family formation and stability, and decrease childbearing outside of marriage.

For more information about the Healthy Families Initiative (HFI) or to register for FREE classes, visit https://georgiaopportunity.org/initiatives/hfi/