Editorial Roundup: Georgia

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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April 7

Savannah Morning News on the legacy of Georgia Sen. Jack Hill:

Georgia’s fiscal budget is drafted by the governor’s office and revised — rewritten — by the House of Representatives.

For the last 16 budget cycles, the spending plan has then been fine-tuned and readied for passage under the guidance of one man: Sen. Jack Hill.

Hill died on April 5 at age 75. A staff member found him sitting behind his desk in his Reidsville office. Those who knew or worked with Hill might even guess he was poring over the 2021 proposed budget at the time of his death, looking for savings in the face of a projected $1 billion, coronavirus-related revenue shortfall.

His peers, and Georgia taxpayers, will certainly miss Hill’s experience and expertise during the budget work to come.

Georgians have lost a true leader, one whose talents go beyond budget wizardry. Hill won his Senate seat in 1990 and mentored countless public servants over the following three decades.

Hill’s passing weighs heaviest on his constituents. He called Reidsville home but his district covered a broad swath of the Savannah region, including all of Effingham County as well as the area’s second largest city, Statesboro. Hill graduated from Reidsville High School and Georgia Southern University and operated a Reidsville grocery store for many years before retiring from the business.

Hill was a pillar in his district. Remembered for his kindness and reasoned demeanor, Hill hadn’t faced an election challenger in more than a decade. He was the only candidate to qualify for the district’s Senate seat in the 2020 election.

To his constituents, he was always “Jack” and never “Sen. Hill.”

THE EPITOME OF A ‘PUBLIC SERVANT’

U.S. Congressman Buddy Carter sat next to Hill in the Georgia Senate chamber for five invaluable, politically formative years.

Hill showed Carter what it truly meant to be a public servant.

“Jack HIll set the threshold for others to aspire to,” said Carter, who had already served in public office for 15 years prior to being elected to the Senate. “A political party label never meant anything to him. He was always about doing what was right and what was right for the state of Georgia.”

Hill’s influence on Carter was obvious in an emotional telephone interview with the congressman conducted on April 7. The two worked closely together in the Senate — their districts bordered each other -- and shared constituents when Carter served in the Georgia House prior to his Senate election.

“So often you hear people speak well about people after they’re passed but Jack Hill was the real deal,” Carter said. “He was so devoted to those he represented.”

Hill’s constituents included House Rep. Bill Hitchens. Their relationship predates both of their political careers — Hitchens recalls driving from his Rincon home to Hill’s Reidsville grocery to buy a particularly tasty type of sausage.

Hitchens also played a behind-the-scenes role in Hill’s first Senate run, encouraging Effingham’s immensely popular sheriff at the time to introduce Hill around the county.

Hill won Effingham overwhelmingly in that election and with it the district.

“He could have sought and won any position in the Senate and any political office really,” Hitchens said. “He was one of the most powerful people in the state government and he never flaunted it, which endeared him to everyone.”

LOSS OF INSTITUTIONAL KNOWLEDGE

Hill’s absence will resonate at a deafening volume around the Georgia Capitol once the Legislature resumes the 2020 session.

The coronavirus pandemic led lawmakers to suspend the term on March 13 just past the session’s midpoint. The House approved its version of the 2021 budget the day before, a $28.1 billion proposal that included a teacher pay increase and allowed for an income tax cut.

The Senate will pick up the proposal once the coronavirus threat passes and legislators return to work. The current economic disruption is expected to cost the state at least $1 billion in revenue, according to Savannah-area State Sen. Lester Jackson, and may force Senate budget leaders to strip down the spending plan — and do so quickly, with leaders expressing hopes of wrapping up the 2020 session in a short five-day period.

Hill, as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, would have led that effort. He would also have been an influential voice in the conference committee discussions to follow. The conference committee is where Senate and House leaders huddle together and finalize the spending plan prior to passage.

Hill’s institutional knowledge would have proven invaluable in those negotiations.

Godspeed, Sen. Jack Hill.

Online: https://www.savannahnow.com

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April 5

The Augusta Chronicle on Gov. Brian Kemp's decision to reopen Georgia beaches:

A well-meaning idea isn’t looking so sunny in its execution.

When Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued a statewide shelter-in-place order on April 2 to help combat the spread of the coronavirus, it countermanded local COVID-19 measures that city and county governments already have instituted.

So even though Kemp’s order doesn’t even mention the word “beach,” the effect of the order now opens beaches on Tybee, Jekyll and St. Simons islands that local authorities had already closed.

We understand the temptation. It’s superb beach weather right now. Though people have been ordered to stay in their homes to help prevent spreading the coronavirus, the state order is mindful of citizens’ desire for exercise and fresh air.

But at a time when people are encouraged not to touch their faces, folks are understandably scratching their heads about the decision.

The order requires Georgians to stay in their homes, except to conduct only certain types of essential travel. But it also allows the pursuit of “outdoor exercise activities.” Public perception is what it is. A lot of people will see that as a contradiction.

Tybee Island Mayor Shirley Sessions is livid over the order, and we can’t blame her. She and Tybee’s City Council have been enacting measures over the past several weeks meant to protect residents and visitors. Business hours, alcohol consumption and availability of vacation rentals all have been scaled back.

But on April 4, Sessions called the beach reopenings a “reckless mandate.” “While the beaches have to reopen under the Governor’s order, Tybee will not have beach access and parking lots will remain closed until further notice,” a city statement read.

In other words, Tybee’s beaches are open, but good luck reaching them.

Authorities aren’t happy in Brunswick, either, where Glynn County includes four of Georgia’s Golden Isles and their beaches.

“Don’t tell the counties of Georgia to make the decisions they need to make to (protect their citizens) then come in there and wipe them out,” Glynn County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Browning said.

The state’s coronavirus policy on beaches resembles the state’s COVID-19 policy on parks, which remain open. Visitors are still permitted, but it’s up to on-site authorities to enforce a 6-foot social distancing radius and a 10-person maximum on gatherings. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources holds jurisdiction over both state parks and beaches.

But cities and counties that include beaches tend to exert more hands-on oversight over sand and surf, and over the people who enjoy them. Beach communities are proud of their beaches, and want a strong say in what happens to them.

This latest order has exposed a thorny aspect of city-vs.-state beach control that deserves more nuanced attention during the coronavirus.

State officials and beachside municipal leaders should work together more closely to reach more agreeable decisions on closures. We hope that’s still possible. If local officials - and apparently many of their residents who use social media - want beaches restricted during COVID-19, carving out such an exception isn’t unreasonable.

Whatever decision is final, just make sure it’s the healthiest, safest alternative for Georgians.

Online: https://www.augustachronicle.com

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April 2

Valdosta Daily Times on the importance of the census count:

Did you miss Census Day?

It was yesterday.

But don’t worry, it is not too late for you and your family to be counted.

And being counted is both extremely important and required.

You can still log on to the U.S. Census Bureau website at https://my2020census.gov/login, enter the 12-digit identification number you received in the mail and complete the simple questionnaire.

It is not complicated and just takes a few minutes.

You do not have to complete it online.

You can also do it by telephone or through the mail.

To complete the questionnaire by phone, you begin by calling (844) 330-2020. The phone lines are open 7 a.m.-2 a.m. each day.

To complete it by regular mail, return the questionnaire you received in the mail in the envelope provided. If you do not have the return envelope, you can mail the completed form to: U.S. Census Bureau National Processing Center, 1201 E. 10th St., Jeffersonville, IN 47132.

Why should you do it?

Why does it matter?

For cities and counties, population numbers mean dollars.

The U.S. Census is conducted every 10 years and the numbers have direct impact on every community, including our own.

The U.S. Census Bureau says the census is used to determine how billions and billions of federal dollars will be distributed to communities for the next 10 years.

More specifically, the federal government explains that census numbers influence highway planning and construction, how money is allocated for things like Head Start programs, grants that support teachers and special education, federal dollars for wildlife restoration, to prevent child abuse, to provide housing assistance for older adults and the list goes on and on.

Needless to say, the census is important.

We understand everyone’s world has been turned upside down with the COVID-19 crisis, normal routines have been disrupted and a lot of things may have fallen through the cracks, including completing your 2020 U.S. Census questionnaire.

Fortunately, this is something you can do in the safety and security of your own home.

We encourage everyone who has not already done so to take the time to be counted.

Online: https://www.valdostadailytimes.com