Get Out The Vote! GA Midterm Elections 2018

The Peak

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MIDTERM ELECTIONS APPROACHING 

The midterm elections are fast approaching on TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 6TH and, with most Americans saying that this election is the most important midterm in their lifetime, it is essential that voters are well informed. Not only does this election include the election of state governor, but a whole host of statewide offices, Georgia constitutional amendments and ballot referendums. Here is a brief rundown of the things you may need to know.

As represented on the useful Georgia 2018 elections and voter registration calendar, the final day for voter registration passed on October 9. However, if you have voted previously within the last two election cycles, it is likely you are still active and able to vote. You can check your voter status, voter information and local polling locations online on the Georgia “My Voter Page“. If your status is set to active, you’re good to go. This page also has a link to a sample ballot for the county you are registered in that is very worth checking out prior to voting. You are also able to contact the Georgia elections office by phone at (844) 753-7825 if you have any additional questions or the website isn’t working out for you.

If you don’t wish to wait in a longer line on the general election date, November 6, early voting may be the better option for you. Early in-person voting for the midterm election began on October 15 and ends on November 2. Your “My Voter Page” can show you the closest early voting locations and hours.

MEET THE CANDIDATES 

The statewide offices up for a vote this midterm are the positions of Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, State School Superintendent, Agriculture Commissioner, Insurance Commissioner, Labor Commissioner and Public Service Commissioner. Below is a list of the most important position’s candidates and a link to each candidate’s website to learn more about their specific platform and where they stand on the issues:

Another very useful resource for learning about all of the candidates is ballotready.org. After simply typing in your registration address, it displays all of the candidates, both statewide and local, that you will be voting on, as well as tons of basic information about the candidates and their policy platforms.

GET THE ISSUES 

Also on this year’s midterm ballot are five proposed Georgia constitutional amendments and two ballot referendums. The five constitutional amendments are obviously proposals to amend the Georgia constitution, which is much harder to overturn, while the ballot referendums simply amend current law. All of them were referred to the ballot by the legislature. However, some of them are quite confusing in their wording, therefore, below is a brief explanation of each. The AJC has also published a detailed explanation, which will be quoted or paraphrased from in this explanation.

Amendment 1: Land conservation, parks, trails

How it will appear on the ballot:

Without increasing the current state sales tax rate, shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to create the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to conserve lands that protect drinking water sources and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; to protect and conserve forests, fish, wildlife habitats, and state and local parks; and to provide opportunities for our children and families to play and enjoy the outdoors, by dedicating, subject to full public disclosure, up to 80 percent of the existing sales tax collected by sporting goods stores to such purposes without increasing the current state sales tax rate?

What it would do: This amendment would allow the legislature to allocate up to 80 percent of the existing sales taxes on sporting goods to conservation efforts. The measure would not raise taxes and expires after 10 years. Funds would be used to support state parks and trails, and acquire land for the provision or protection of clean water, wildlife, hunting, fishing, or outdoor recreation.

Amendment 2: Business courts

How it will appear on the ballot:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to create a state-wide business court, authorize superior court business court divisions, and allow for the appointment process for statewide business court judges in order to lower costs, improve the efficiency of all courts, and promote predictability of judicial outcomes in certain complex business disputes for the benefit of all citizens of this state?

What it would do: This proposal would create statewide business courts, and according to advocates is a pro-business and cost-saving measure. However, under this measure judges to these courts are appointed by the governor to five-year terms with the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee and its counterpart in the House currently all trial court and appeals court judges are elected directly by voters rather than appointed. Under current law, presiding judges can already assign complex business cases to special masters with expertise in the subject area.

Amendment 3: Timber tax

How it will appear on the ballot:

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to revise provisions related to the subclassification for tax purposes of and the prescribed methodology for establishing the value of forest land conservation use property and related assistance grants, to provide that assistance grants related to forest land conservation use property may be increased by general law for a five-year period and that up to 5 percent of assistance grants may be deducted and retained by the state revenue commissioner to provide for certain state administrative costs, and to provide for the subclassification of qualified timberland property for ad valorem taxation purposes?

What it would do: This amendment is somewhat complicated and has a number of missions. Under a 2008 constitutional amendment, a property tax class was created to allow for the special assessment and taxation of forested land over 200 acres to encourage conservation of the state’s forests. This current proposal would allow the legislature to reassess these properties according to fair market value, rather than as forestlands, when reimbursing local governments for lost tax revenue and allow the state to keep up to 5 percent of these reimbursements for the purpose of administering the program. The proposal also authorizes the legislature to create a new class of timberland property, that is over 50 acres, to qualify for a lower property tax without being required to set it aside for conservation. The amendment contains no provisions for the state to reimburse local governments that lose revenue due to this new land classification.

Amendment 4: Crime victims’ rights

How it will appear on the ballot: 

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide certain rights to victims against whom a crime has allegedly been perpetrated and allow victims to assert such rights?

What it would do: This amendment would add legislation known as “Marsy’s law” to the state constitution and grants specific rights to crime victims. It requires notification of crime victims on hearings and other proceedings in their cases and gives victims the right to demand a court hearing if they feel proper notice has not been given in the case. Advocates say the measure will protect the rights of victims and grant them rights like defendants, however, opponents, like the ACLU, argue it undermines due process.

Amendment 5: Local option sales tax

How it will appear on the ballot: 

Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize a referendum for a sales and use tax for education by a county school district or an independent school district or districts within the county having a majority of the students enrolled within the county and to provide that the proceeds are distributed on a per-student basis among all the school systems unless an agreement is reached among such school systems for a different distribution?

What it would do: This amendment, according to the AJC, would “remove the requirement that a county school district and a city school district within the county’s boundaries must agree before calling a referendum to raise sales taxes for education.” The 1 percent sales tax would expire after 5 years.

Referendum A: Homestead exemptions for homes spanning county lines

How it will appear on the ballot: 

Do you approve a new homestead exemption for a municipal corporation that is located in more than one county, that levies a sales tax for the purposes of a metropolitan area system of public transportation, and that has within its boundaries an independent school system, from ad valorem taxes for municipal purposes in the amount of the difference between the current year assessed value of a home and the adjusted base year value, provided that the lowest base year value will be adjusted yearly by 2.6%?

What it would do: This referendum, according to the AJC, would “allow a homestead exemption for homes in jurisdictions such as the city of Atlanta that straddle more than one county.”

Referendum B: Tax exemption for homes for the mentally disabled (technical change)

How it will appear on the ballot:

Shall the Act be approved which provides an exemption from ad valorem taxes on nonprofit homes for the mentally disabled if they include business corporations in the ownership structure for financing purposes?

What it would do: This measure ensures that homes for the mentally disabled are not disqualified from ad valorem tax exemptions, even when corporations are involved, or the housing constructed is paid for by financing from corporations.


Article originally published by The Peak

Georgia Distracted Driving Bill Aims to Save Lives

Advanced Media Writing

BY ROBERT THOMAS

Read the heart-wrenching perspective of Natalie Bacho, who lost her daughter to distracted driving and advocated in favor of the recent Georgia distracted driving bill. Opponents to the bill feel it is a government overreach, but police feel it is necessary. The bill aims to save lives and studies reveal it is likely to do so.

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KENNESAW, Ga. – While others were enjoying the festivities of the Christmas season, shopping for loved ones and enjoying time with their families, Natalie Bacho sat at Abby’s, her 9-year-old daughter, hospital bedside as she clung to life by a thread.

Abby was in the car with the rest of her family on the way to look at Christmas lights after a meal out with family on December 22 when the car was struck by an 18-year-old driver who was talking on his phone at the time. The collision resulting from this young distracted driver put three of Bacho’s family members in critical condition, one of whom was Abby who eventually passed away on Christmas day. “That one second choice of a young driver completely ripped our family apart,” Bacho said.

Natalie Bacho’s story is just one of thousands of Georgian families who have had their loved one ripped from them as a result of distracted driving, and like Natalie Bacho, many are fighting hard to ensure the same fate doesn’t happen to more families.

Largely due to the push of families like hers, House Bill 673, which is designed to prohibit motorists from holding their phones while driving, recently passed the Georgia legislature and is on its way to being signed by Gov. Nathan Deal who has already endorsed the measure. However, many Georgians disagree with the measure and believe it is an overreach by government and a violation of their rights.

Opposition To HB 673

Some opponents to the bill claim that the loss of life is too insignificant to warrant such actions by the state. “Should we really do such a massive overreach legislating the few incidences that happen, versus the millions that happen where nothing goes wrong?” Kennesaw State University student Mike Brock said. Many like Brock are skeptical of the actual impact that the law would have in decreasing the number of distracted drivers and traffic fatalities. “People are still going to do it. People will use their cell phones regardless,” he says.

Asa Cooper, a local resident who supports the bill, says that while he finds it easy to make excuses to use his phone for just “one quick second” while driving, and is admittedly reluctant to obey the law, but he understands the need for the bill. Even Bacho admitted that she would occasionally use her phone before the tragedy of losing her daughter to distracted driving.

Changing Perspectives on Driving

“People have to understand that you just can’t do that, that lives are literally in their hands,” Bacho says. “If we have a law in place that it’s going prevent them from doing that, and their going to know that that’s against the law if they’re reaching for something and they have it in their hands, then I think that’s when we’re really going to see a major change in those numbers and lives.”

Bacho says that she believes her daughter’s right to life is far more important than someone’s selfish desire to use their phone while driving. Also, despite the skepticism by some of the real impact, 13 and the 15 states that have passed a similar law saw a significant decrease in the rate of traffic fatalities within two years of their implementation. In addition to this, according to a 2017 report by the National Traffic Law Center, “Studies have shown the overall crash risk increases 3.6 times over model driving when a driver interacts with a handheld device.”

Enforcement of Law

Many opponents of the bill say that police should simply better enforce the existing texting while driving ban to address this issue. However, there are technical legal barriers to police enforcing the existing law. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it’s difficult for many police officers to tell if someone is texting or just dialing a phone number, which is legal under the current law. This unenforceable middle ground Bacho says, led to widespread backing of the measure by Georgia law enforcement in the council proceedings prior to the passage of the bill by the legislature.

Despite the support for the current bill, some remain skeptical of whether the law actually goes far enough. The initial version of the bill contained a steep increase to the first-offense fine for distracted driving to $300, which according to Bacho the families that testified before the legislature were widely in support of. However, before passage the senate amended the bill to lower the proposed first-offense fine to just $50. Bacho was also worried about the level of distraction present even when using a hands-free device to talk on the phone. “When we are engaged in a phone call, especially when you’re driving, you’re cognitively engaged in something else,” Bacho said.

Hands-free Devices

Although, other voices, such as local resident Michael Browning, argue that as our cars become better at connecting to our phones and allowing more hands-free use of our devices, that fatalities from distracted driving will decrease. Browning believes that part of the issue is in older model cars not easily syncing with our phones and requiring drivers to touch their phones to change a song or use navigation. “As our cars allow us to be more hands-free to do the things that we want to do, I think that at that point there’s no excuse for me to have my phone in my hand because I don’t need it to control my music, I don’t need it to send this message, and I don’t need it to call this person,” Browning said.

Saving Other Lives

After the tragic loss of her daughter, not only did Bacho testify before the legislature in favor of the bill, she also decided to form the “Abby’s Angels Foundation”, which she says seeks to bring awareness and education to drivers of all ages of the dangers of distracted driving, provide school supplies and encouragement to students in need, and to advocate for organ donation. “Knowing that Abby’s life was going to end, for us, and for me, and for our family, that wasn’t okay,” Bacho said. “She was only nine and she had a big beautiful life to live. That was taken from her and it could’ve been prevented.”

Opinion: The distracted driving bill could save lives

The Sentinel

By: Robert Thomas

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The Distracted Driving Bill prohibits drivers from holding their phones while behind the wheel Photo credit: Alison Warren

House Bill 673, designed to prohibit motorists from holding their phones while driving, would prevent the deaths of many Georgians and tackle the selfish desire to use a phone while driving if signed into law.

According to the Georgia Department of Transportation, traffic fatalities have risen by nearly a third since 2014, and, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, some safety advocates attribute the rise to our constant addiction to cell phones. In the last year alone, 1,550 people died in Georgia due to distracted driving.

Many opponents of the bill say that police should simply better enforce the existing texting while driving ban to address this issue. However, there are technical legal barriers to police enforcing the existing law.

According to the AJC, it’s difficult for many officers to tell if someone is texting or just dialing a phone number, which is legal under the current law. Even if someone is texting while driving, all they have to do is claim to have been making a call instead of texting. This unenforceable middle ground simply does not suffice.

Like many students, I still find myself making excuses to handle my phone while driving in order change the song, put an address into my navigation or dial a phone number. I am more easily able to make excuses to say that it is not as dangerous because it is only for “one quick second.” But, in reality, all it takes is one quick second to end a life.

According to a 2017 report by the National Traffic Law Center, “Studies have shown the overall crash risk increases 3.6 times over model driving when a driver interacts with a handheld device.”

If all hand-held use of your cell phone while driving was illegal, it would be easier for people to make the mental switch in ruling out any cell phone use while driving. With 15 states having already adopted such laws, and 13 of them seeing a substantial decrease in traffic fatalities within just two years, the evidence speaks for itself.

Furthermore, it seems extremely morally difficult for anyone to justify the selfish desire to use their cell phone while driving when those countering the argument are people like Mary Carol Harsch, whose husband was struck and killed by a motorist talking on his phone.

In an interview with the AJC, Harsch said that she feels his life was worth more than the convenience of talking while driving.

“I would love to see HB 673 passed, because it’s past time for us to do something in Georgia to make our roadways safer,” Harsch said.

There is no excuse to hold your cell phone while driving when there are now a number of affordable hands-free driving devices and features such as voice-to-text. Your life is worth more than a phone call.


Article originally published by The Sentinel