‘Guide to the Issues’ Offers Georgia-focused Solutions

This guest post is by the brilliant think tank author Benita Dodd, Vice-President of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation (GPPF). The foundation’s mission is to improve the lives of Georgians through public policies that enhance economic opportunity and freedom.

‘Guide to the Issues’ Offers Georgia-focused Solutions
By: Benita Dodd

The media hype surrounding the political parties’ national conventions spotlights the enormous discord created by personalities and politics as the presidential election approaches. Getting short shrift amid slogans and the scramble for dollars and votes are the policy proposals that will affect the lives of Americans — and Georgians — long after November 8.

Benita Dodd GPPF Vice-President
Benita Dodd is the Georgia Public Policy Foundation (GPPF) Vice-President. Photo courtesy GPPF.

Many citizens dismiss the states’ impact on issues at the national level — federal taxes, immigration, the military and education policy, for example. Too many believe the answers depend on who is elected president and to Congress.

It’s not always so. It behooves Georgians to pay close attention to innovative ideas closer to home. States are often incubators, testing life-enhancing policies that can be embraced at the federal level, too.

  • Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Tommy Thompson, is called the father of welfare reform for implementing welfare-to-work policies in his state in the 1990s that became a national model.
  • Texas is the innovator that began the “Right on Crime” criminal justice reforms in which Georgia is now an acknowledged leader at both adult and juvenile levels.
  • State by state, the Institute for Justice takes on occupational licensing barriers, including for Georgia’s African hair-braiders; today even the federal government proposes reducing licensing burdens.
  • Common Core State Standards were offered by governors — including Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue — as a state alternative to the federal No Child Left Behind law. Sadly, it became a pariah after being co-opted by the federal government.

As Georgia’s only free-market, state-focused public policy research organization (“think tank”) the nonpartisan Georgia Public Policy Foundation understands the need for a thoughtful approach that reinforces policy over politics in this acrimonious political climate. Limited government needs a passionate advocate or mission creep wins.

Hence the Guide to the Issues 2016. Currently online and awaiting publication of the hard copy version, the 13 issue chapters share solutions Georgia can implement at the state level and perhaps serve as a national example. Each includes the Foundation’s principles for reform, facts on the issue, background information and, in most cases, specific items that provide positive solutions to Georgia’s policy challenges.

With a foundation of facts and the principles of limited government, individual responsibility and free enterprise, the Guide to the Issues promotes opportunity for all Georgians, from education to work and more.

Elected officials considering further Criminal Justice reforms, for example, learn that Georgia’s rate of probation is the highest in the nation: alarmingly, four times the national average and more than double the rate of any other state.

When it comes to Medical Malpractice, few know the authors of this comment: “The current tort system does not promote open communication to improve patient safety. On the contrary, it jeopardizes patient safety by creating an intimidating liability environment.” The authors were then-senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

The Medicaid chapter warns against expanding the program under ObamaCare, noting: “Adding several hundred thousand more recipients to the program will further strain the system and could negatively impact existing Medicaid recipients: the elderly, the disabled, pregnant women and children.”

The Tax Reform chapter proposes lowering the personal income tax rate, noting that “More than half of all business income nationally is taxed through the individual income tax, not the corporate income tax. …That amounts to more than 800,000 small businesses in Georgia.”

The Transportation chapter urges, “Instead of arguing for costly taxpayer-funded expansion of antiquated modes such as heavy rail, light rail and streetcars that require a lengthy commitment, Georgia policymakers should prepare for the future” of commuter technology, ridesharing and autonomous vehicle services.

Other chapters cover Education, Fiscal Overview, Health Care, Higher Education, Long-Term Care, Medicaid, Pension Reform, Professional Licensing and Welfare Reform.

The chapters are easy to digest and serve as more than a roadmap for candidates and elected officials. Georgians deserve government that is more effective, efficient and accountable to hardworking taxpayers, voters and families. The Foundation’s Guide to the Issues helps voters decide who’ll bear down on Big Government.

We hope you’ll take the time to visit the online version and send us your thoughts at info@georgiapolicy.org.

Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the view of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (July 22, 2016). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and her affiliations are cited.

“Billion Dollar Baby” event discusses the Georgia movie industry

Tubman Museum
Macon’s Tubman Museum was the venue for Macon Film Festival’s “Million Dollar Baby”, a panel on the Georgia film industry. Photo by Doug Deal.

Approximately 50 people attended the “Billion Dollar Baby” event during the Macon Film Festival. A panel of 8 experts from the film industry, education and community organizations each gave a brief presentation of their role in bringing movies to Georgia. The panel was hosted by the Macon Film Commission’s Terrell Sandfefur and took place Friday afternoon. Other members were: Alison Fibben, Clark Cofer, Elliott Dunwoody, Jeffrey Stepakoff, Jeremiah Bennett, LaRonda Sutton, and Shelbia Jackson.

Discussion was held in the Peyton Anderson Rotunda inside the Tubman Museum where panelist Elliott Dunwoody explained how the movie industry got a head start in Georgia with a lot of help from Burt Reynolds, who starred in Deliverance (1972). Today, shows like the Living Dead, various reality shows and movies like Avengers: The Infinity War and Furious 8. All counted, there are at least 33 different TV and movie productions being filmed in Georgia.

Part of the discussion focused on how ordinary people could help bring these productions to Georgia. One of the most important aspects is the skills set of local residents. Movies and TV productions not only need actors, they need electricians, sound engineers, hair and makeup stylists and scores of others to round out the production. These “non-glamorous” roles are critical to the success of any production and producers are more likely to film in areas that have enough skilled workers to meet their demand. Organizations like the Macon Film Commission can furnish you with more information on opportunities to learn the business or apply your skills.

Billion Dollar Baby
“Billion Dollar Baby” was attended by 50 plus people from Macon and as far away as Massachusetts. Photo by Doug Deal.

Another big part of the equation are the tax breaks and credits the industry can take advantage of which are made available by the state government. If a studio has a presence in Georgia and uses local Georgia companies, they can receive a tax credit for a portion of what they spent. Further, by displaying the peach logo you may have seen in the credits at the end of a movie, studios can receive additional credits. Such publicity encourages more films and series to consider Georgia.

The Georgia film industry is hot–by some reports it is hot enough to rank as the third busiest location in the United States for film and TV productions. That heat is generated by a partnership of industry executives, economic development organizations, various film commissions, state and local governments, and the people of Georgia.

Find out more from at the Macon Film Commission. The film festival activities continue this weekend. Saturday July 23, check out the casting workshop, also at the Tubman Museum from 1 to 2 PM.

For any of the many other Film Festival events, please consult their schedule.

Rethinking mandatory minimum sentences

In an effort to share different voices on issues that affect the people of Macon and Middle Georgia, we will be posting op-eds and guest articles from time to time. This article came to us via the Georgia Public Policy Foundation think tank whose mission is to improve the life of all Georgians through the support of public policy that enhances both freedom and economic opportunity.

The Atlanta based organization is headed by President and CEO Kelly McCutchen and Vice-President Benita Dodd. For more information, visit their website.

Rethinking mandatory minimum sentences

By John G. Malcolm and John-Michael Seibler

Portrait of John G. Malcolm
John G. Malcolm, a former board member of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, is director of The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and John-Michael Seibler is a visiting legal fellow at the Center. Image courtesy The Heritage Foundation.

President Obama has publicly opined that mandatory minimum sentences ranging from 20 years to life in prison for drug offenses do not “fit the crime.” He has acted on that belief by commuting dozens of drug offenders’ sentences as Congress debates reform to various aspects of mandatory minimum sentencing laws.

Sherman Chester is built like an NFL cornerback. His size belies a calm, respectful demeanor and a soft-spoken wit. On politics, he says he registered to vote as a Republican in 1984 because “Ronald Reagan was in office” and “America was doing it!” And when asked how he felt when he received a mandatory life sentence without parole for selling cocaine and heroin, he says he was “a little miffed.”

But he isn’t flippant about crime. His family faced dire straits, a family friend ran a drug trade, and he made what he calls “a bad decision.” His sentencing judge agreed, but went on record objecting to the mandatory minimum sentence in Chester’s case, saying, “This man doesn’t deserve a life sentence, [but] there is no way that I can legally keep from giving it to him.”

That was in 1994.

Thinking back on it, Chester says, “I can’t blame anyone but myself and be accountable for what I did.”

But as he saw the same people rotate in and out of prison while he was to “rot away for decades,” Chester says, he took it “as an insult.”

“They say it’s hard out there,” but Chester is adamant: given his freedom, he would put it to good use.

Obama commuted his sentence on Dec. 18, 2015, and he now lives in a Tampa, Fla., halfway house. He is already putting the professional certification he earned in prison to good use: He is an electrician and is proud of his trade. On weekends, he spends time with family.

On mandatory minimum sentencing laws, he says, “there’s something wrong with [the] picture” when someone who murders a police officer is locked up for 30 years, but someone who deals a small amount of drugs is put away for life.

One can certainly sympathize with Chester and other non-violent offenders like him (although most drug transactions inherently involve some potential for violence, lethal overdose or support for gang activity), who made mistakes, who have truly turned a new leaf, but who are stuck in prison for extremely long periods of time because of mandatory minimum sentences.

As Heritage Foundation scholars have argued before, mandatory minimums serve valuable purposes: They “guarantee that sentences are uniform throughout the federal system;” “ensure that individuals are punished commensurate with their moral culpability by hitching the sentence to the crime, not the person;” and through “reliance on fixed, lengthy prison sentences,” they “enable communities to conserve scarce enforcement resources without losing any deterrent benefit,” while also giving police and prosecutors “the leverage necessary to secure the cooperation and testimony of low-level offenders against their more senior confederates.”

Yet, there are cases like Chester’s where the rigidity of mandatory minimums may be unjust as applied.

One “financially desperate single mother of four with no criminal history” once took $100 from a stranger to “mail a package that, unbeknownst to her, contained 232 grams of crack cocaine.” She was arrested, prosecuted and, although her sentencing judge “felt that this punishment was completely unjust and irrational,” she received a 10-year prison sentence.

Another man received a 15-year jail sentence for possession of 31 Vicodin pills that he had in his possession to attempt suicide by overdose. The sentencing judge said, “I do believe this is an inappropriate sentence for you … but there are restraints placed on my ability to stray from the statutory framework that would result in [your] early release.”

Heritage scholars have argued that while “Congress was right to be concerned about reducing sentencing disparity and ensuring that sentences are neither unduly lenient nor unduly harsh,” sentencing laws should also “leave room for adjustment in certain cases where a legislatively fixed sentence would be manifestly unjust.”

And because “no statute can account for every variable in every case,” Congress could grant district courts “some additional limited sentencing discretion” to reduce “some unjust sentences without obviously undercutting the incapacitative, deterrent, and educative benefits of the criminal law.”

Some have criticized Obama’s liberal use of his constitutional authority to grant pardons and commutations, perhaps with some justification at least with respect to offenders who committed violent offenses in the past.

Nonetheless, such powers remain available to the president at the federal level and to governors at the state level to provide leniency in appropriate cases when the courts cannot.

Many criminal justice reform proposals, including mens rea reform, are currently being debated at the state and federal level. When it comes to reforming mandatory minimum laws, it is important to consider the nature of the serious offenses giving rise to such penalties and the harms they cause to society.

At the same time, it is important to consider what should be done for people like Sherman Chester so that, in appropriate cases, the quality of mercy is not strained. This is a discussion worth having.

John G. Malcolm, a former board member of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, is director of The Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies and John-Michael Seibler is a visiting legal fellow at the Center.  This commentary is reprinted with permission from the Daily Signal by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent, state-focused, nonprofit think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.

© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (June 17, 2016). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the authors and their affiliations are cited.

Bibb County Commission passes fireworks ordinance

According to Commissioner Mallory Jones, tbe county commission has just passed and the mayor has signed an ordinance making it illegal to use fireworks after 9 PM on nearly all nights of the year.

The statement by Jones reads as follows:

Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Mallory Jones
Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Mallory Jones. Photo courtesy Facebook.

“To all our Citizens who get up and go to work everyday, To our Seniors, to our Retirees, to our Moms and Dads and their Children, to our Veterans who suffer from PTSD, and to all the Pet Owners and their terrified pets, & to anyone else who believes they have the right to Peace and Quiet in their own Neighborhood, Your Voice has been Heard. Effective July 19, 2016, the Ordinance has Passed and Signed by the Mayor stating that the Macon-Bibb Commission has prohibited the use of fireworks between the hours of 9:00 pm and 11:59 pm on all days of the year, with the exception of January 1,
July 3, July 4, and December 31. This officially amends the Code of Ordinances of Macon-Bibb County to include the use of fireworks as a prohibited noise violation during the aforementioned hours.

To those who like to use fireworks, you can still use them eleven hours a day. Please Be Careful!”

Events this week Thursday July 21 to July 27, 2016

This coming week, there are a number of interesting events in and around Macon in association with the Macon Film Festival and Bragg Jam.

Macon Film Festival 2016
The Macon Film Festival occurs this week and there are many film and TV industry themed events. Image courtesy of Macon Film Commission.

Thursday July 21, the Macon Film Festival will be showing Pretty and Pink, the 1980’s John Hughes classic film staring Molly Ringwald at the Douglass Theatre at 355 Martin Luther King Blvd. in Macon. The event starts at 6 PM with an introduction and discussion followed by the film at 7:15 PM.  Tickets are available from Ticket Derby.  Andrew McCarthy, who played Blane in the film, will also be hold a Q&A before showtime.

Friday July 22, at 1 PM, the Macon Film Festival and Macon Film Commission will be hosting a “Billion Dollar Baby: Georgia Film Industry”, a panel on the thriving Georgia Film industry.  The panel will discuss how you can support and become involved with this industry in Georgia and how this industry helps the local community. Other topics to be discussed will be the film and TV tax incentives, industry jobs and the importance of events like the Macon Film Festival.

The panel will be moderated by Terrell Sandefur and the panelists will be Alison Fibben, Clark Cofer, Elliott Dunwoody, Jeffrey Stepakoff, Jeremiah Bennett, LaRonda Sutton, and Shelbia Jackson. Panelists have been drawn from local film organizations and schools as well as stakeholders in TV and film projects and firms. This event is open to the public and is free of charge with free on-street parking near the venue, the Harriet Tubman Museum at 310 Cherry Street in downtown Macon.

For more information, contact the Macon Film Festival at their headquarters located at 502 Cherry Street in Macon during the week of the festival, which is July 18-24).

Saturday, July 23, the Macon Film Festival continues with a casting workshop hosted by Cynthia Stillwell Casting who has been a casting director for such productions as Selma, Glory, Fried Green Tomatoes, Resurrection, Red Band Society, and others. The workshop will focus on finding who you are and what you need to market.

1 PM – 2 PM at the Tubman Museum lecture room

Tickets available at Ticket Derby.

Tuesday, July 26, runoff elections will be held for various municipal and state elections. If you have not early voted, this is your last chance for your vote to be heard.


Macon Progress and Macon Love bottles
Macon Beer Company now offers two popular brews, Macon Love and Macon Progress in amber bottles at Kroger. The bottle release party will add Macon Music and Macon Movies to the bottled lineup. Photo by Doug Deal

Wednesday, July 27, Macon Beer Company is hosting “Festie Besties: Bottle Release Party”. To honor two big Macon festivals, the Macon Film Festival and Bragg Jam, they will be releasing Macon Movies and Macon Music. The event is at their brewery at 345 Oglethorpe St in Macon and will run from 6-10 PM. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 at the door.

All guests will receive one large 22-oz bottle of each beer and food will be available for purchase. This event will be a special Tour and Tasting event, so it will also include the 6 tasting tickets for 6 ounces samples from their taproom and a tour of the brew room that comes with all such events.

For tickets, click here.

If your club, business or organization has an event that is open to the public, let us know and we will publish it in our weekly notice of events. The event roundup is posted each Wednesday afternoon and notices should be in by the preceding Monday at close of business.