Brunswick News. March 27, 2023.
Editorial: State Senate must play its part in fighting homelessness
In a planning retreat Friday, Glynn County commissioners listed a number of priority projects and goals they would like to tackle in the next fiscal year. Among them, neither of which should be a surprise to anyone keeping up with the goings-on in the community, are improved approaches to homelessness and to mental illness.
Homelessness — the resources it requires and the problems it presents — has been in an intensifying spotlight in the city of Brunswick for some time now. With the number of unsheltered men and women roaming about the city and an upsurge in crimes attributed to them, City Hall is still wondering how to effectively deal with the homeless situation. Consider it a certainty that the city would welcome useful assistance from county government. It is a complicated issue most everywhere in this nation.
Help from the state also may be on the way. Legislation that would make it a violation of Georgia law to transport and drop off a known homeless person from one jurisdiction to another was on the verge of passing Monday. Few are naive enough to think the new law will remedy such a dastardly practice. It will, however, give anyone contemplating it second thoughts.
Just as difficult is dealing with people struggling with mental health problems, especially when resources are scarce or nonexistent. As has been reported, people in this category make up half or almost half of the jail population here and elsewhere. They should not be there. They should be where they can benefit from professional care. Many of them have no place to go but the streets. It shouldn’t be like this.
Sadly, this session of the General Assembly may conclude without building upon measures taken in 2022 to improve mental health services in Georgia. A House bill designed to increase the number of mental health providers in the state appears to be frozen still in the Senate. If it remains stalled, then it will be 2024 or later before the state will be able to take the next significant step to raising Georgia from the bottom of the national pile in services available to the mentally ill.
The Senate needs to pass this bill.
Valdosta Daily Times. March 25, 2023.
Editorial: Protect police but keep records public
We commend the state lawmakers who put the brakes on a bill that would have gutted open records laws.
Protecting police officers and sheriff’s deputies is one thing but eroding public access to records is quite another.
The Georgia Senate inexplicably passed legislation that would have essentially stripped public access to a large swath of public records.
The effort mirrored initiatives across the country which, quite frankly, have not been thought through. The original legislation was a reaction to horrific situations where judges, law enforcement personnel, their families and other government employees have been targeted for violence at their homes after their addresses were discovered through public records.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Matt Brass, went way too far and would have made it virtually impossible for local records custodians to review, redact and release public records.
The House of Representatives proved far more reasonable than their counterparts in the Senate and worked with the Senate bill sponsor to accomplish what was intended and still preserve the public’s right to know.
Among other things, the original version of Senate Bill 215 would have meant public records containing the names of all government employees and members of government boards, commissions or agencies would be exempt from disclosure.
We think Richard T. Griffiths, president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, explained it well when he said, “If a county employee wants to conceal the sweetheart deal he got on his property tax valuations, he would now be able to use his invisibility cloak to do it. In the last few years, reporters were able to crosscheck records to expose Atlanta city council members and relatives of a former Atlanta mayor for not paying water bills on their properties — to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. Under this portion of the proposed law, it would be simple to invoke secrecy and never get caught.”
When the First Amendment Foundation explained its concerns to the chairman of the House Governmental Affairs Committee, our Rep. John LaHood, he was open to the discussion and clearly seemed to understand the concerns.
After some deliberation, the House committee approved a version that applies the exemption of personal information to law enforcement officers who specifically request removal from publicly available databases.
SB 215 now heads back to the Senate to approve the substitute version. Even Brass seems to see the good sense and sound judgment that went into the drafting of the revised bill.
We believe it is right to provide protections for law enforcement. We also believe it is important to protect the public’s right to know.
We commend Chairman LaHood for being accessible, for listening to the concerns of First Amendment advocates and for shepherding along the legislative process.
We urge lawmakers to support this commonsense approach to protecting officers and to reject any broad attempts to erode public access to public records.