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Political Notes

Farmers’ Plight: A report on agriculture labor in Georgia prepared by Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and his department and released just days before the beginning of the 2012 session made official what many farmers and agricultural groups have been saying for months: The state has a shortage of farm workers that caused million of dollars of losses for farmers last year. And HB 87, Georgia’s immigration bill, was a contributing factor.

The situation cannot be remedied at the state level. Black says the only way to fix the situation is for Congress to streamline and improve the federal guest worker program, which most of the farmers surveyed for the report consider unworkable.

“After seven months of traveling the state, hosting meetings, visiting farms and conducting a survey,” he writes, “it has become more abundantly clear that the solution to the labor issues facing Georgia producers rests in the hands of the federal government.”

Attorney General Sam Olens has indicated that Georgia cannot implement its own guest worker program, as some state legislators had hoped.

Not So HOT: The Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) board abruptly scuttled plans for a $1-billion project, a public-private partnership that would have added optional reversible toll lanes along I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties. The project was already out for bid, although its history had been a bit bumpy. In the fall, Gov. Nathan Deal raised questions about some aspects of the arrangement.

He is now working with the DOT to find a financing plan that does not include private money.

A HOT lane project on I-85 in Gwinnett County that opened last fall has been widely criticized by motorists; that project converted existing free lanes to toll lanes.

Nonpartisanship: The Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) is endorsing a bill prefiled by State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) that would allow counties to petition their legislative delegations to make the office of county commissioner and other county officials – sheriff, district attorney, tax commissioner among them – nonpartisan.

The ACCG notes that most municipal elections in Georgia are nonpartisan, but among county governing au-thorities only the seven consolidated city-country entities are currently al-lowed to conduct nonpartisan elections.

Some 107 counties, however, now have nonpartisan school boards or probate judges.

Heating Help: The Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) voted unanimously to approve the distribution of some $10 million to senior citizens and other low-income natural gas customers of the Atlanta Gas Light Company to help with their winter heating costs. The measure will affect about 60,000 households and will take the form of a $160 credit on consum-ers’ bills. The PSC says funds will come from the Universal Service Fund, which was established under the Natural Gas Deregulation Act of 1997.

In Memoriam: Former State Senator Robert Brown, 61, from Macon, died in December of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound at his Macon home. A Democrat, he served in the state senate for nearly 20 years, but resigned to run unsuccessfully for the Macon mayor’s office.

New Name: The University System of Georgia (USG) Office of Educator Preparation, Innovation and Research is now the Office of Educational Access & Success (OSAS) – still a mouthful, but, according to Dr. David Morgan, the system’s chief academic officer, it “better describes the wide range of programs, initiatives and partnerships that focus on enhancing college access and completion.”

Gov. Nathan Deal has appointed a state commission that is looking into the way the state funds higher education and whether the emphasis should be on graduation rates rather than enrollment.

Interim Director: Ron Scroggy is the Acting Director for the Division of Family & Children’s Services (DFCS), surely one of the toughest jobs in all of state government. The agency, a part of the Georgia Department of Human Resources (DHR), oversees child welfare and foster care, among other things. The appointment was announc-ed by DHR Commissioner Clyde L. Reese III, following the abrupt departure of Rachelle Carnesale, a former prosecutor, who headed DFSC for less than a year.

Scroggy, who has been deputy director and chief of staff, will serve until a permanent director is named. Kath-erine Herren, longtime DFCS employee, is the new acting deputy director.

Barr Says No: Former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr’s decision not to oppose current Ninth District Congressman Rep. Tom Graves in the new 14th District race this year was met with delight – and perhaps relief – by Graves and his supporters. In a press release, the conservative Graves called the conservative Barr “a statesman, always fighting to empower the taxpayer.” Redistricting moved Graves from the ninth to the 14th district.

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