BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, returned to class today, Feb. 28, just two short weeks after one of America’s deadliest mass shootings in modern history took place in their halls.
In the wake of this tragedy, which claimed 17 lives, discussion have opened up about school safety and what can be done to prevent situations like this from occurring in the future.
Brian K. Pritchard (BKP), chief executive officer of FetchYourNews and host of Good Morning From The Office morning show, invited local officials from Gilmer and Fannin counties to address the safety of our local school systems.
In opening the discussion, BKP directly asked both Gilmer and Fannin County School superintendents how safe do they feel the schools in our area are.
Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney answered from a personal perspective: “My child is in a Fannin County school this morning.”
“We are always vigilant in watching what’s going on with our students, watching what’s going on on social media,” Gilmer County School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes said, explaining why she too felt the schools in her county were safe, “and staying in constant contact with our law enforcement.”
“What I feel has come out of Parkland (shooting) is a breakdown in the system,” BKP pointed out to the guest panel and questioned how officials have addressed any recent incidents.
Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson replied that his department has had to respond to incidents almost daily for the past two weeks, but clarified that most complaints are not serious.
“The problem is law enforcement can no longer say that’s not serious. We have to take it serious,” Nicholson explained.
Modern times are different according to Nicholson and he stressed, “Pranks are no longer pranks. When it comes to school safety we will investigate and we will prosecute and arrest or send you to juvenile court.”
Many counties in Georgia do not have school resource officers (SRO) assigned to every school in their district. Fortunately, for both Fannin and Gilmer, this is not the case. All schools within each system has its own SRO, and all panel members feel that this is a major element in keeping our schools safe.
“Are all the SRO officers armed this morning?” BKP directly asked the panel. Both Nicholson and Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby replied that all officers on all campuses were armed.
Gilmer County School Resource Officer Sergeant Greg Dodson explained the duties of an SRO: “A very large part of the job is visual security. It’s patrolling the interior and exterior of the school, checking doors, making sure that they’re locked, trying to monitor who comes and goes.”
“If you see someone at the schools that you don’t recognize, make sure they have a visitor pass, that they’ve gone through the office properly,” Dodson added.
Other duties include checking parking lots, bathrooms, hallways, and interacting and developing relationships with the students.
In Gilmer County, to become an SRO, a deputy must submit a formal letter requesting that position. A panel of the officer’s peers then formally recommends who they feel should be placed in that position. Sheriff Nicholson makes a final decision based on the panel’s recommendations.
Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby confirmed that the process in Fannin County is very similar to Gilmer County and added, “That’s not a job (SRO) that you have just to draw a paycheck. That has to be something that the deputy wants to do.”
“From the very get go, it has to be what that person really wants to do,” Kirby said, explaining that the SROs in place are not only trained but also have a passion for that particular field.
Training for an SRO goes beyond that of a police academy. This training includes a School Resource Officer course, Crisis Intervention Training, Gun Safety, and in-service training such as active shooter scenarios.
Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee was present to discuss the legal aspects of threats against a school and what her department does in collaboration with law enforcement to combat any potential crimes.
“I just need one referral to start. I need one concerned student. I need one diligent parent. That’s what allows us to be able to initiate the investigation and to assess what we need to do next,” Sosebee described of the process of how her department can become involved.
Sosebee said we are fortunate to live in a smaller community where residents feel comfortable speaking up when there is an incident that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Confirming Sosebee’s thoughts on residents willing to tip off authorities, Gilmer County School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Wilkes said, “In my experience, when we’ve had a threat that we needed to investigate, I have not gotten it from one person. I get it from 50 people within about an hour.”
“No matter how good you are technologically, there is no substitution for a good tip,” Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney expressed in similar views.
Both Fannin and Gilmer County school systems continue to take steps to improve safety measures in their schools. Gwatney is looking into extra safety measures using technology. This would include a large network of monitoring devices.
Wilkes is working to renovate Gilmer High School. She would like to implement scan cards for access to doors and is working to restructure the building to create a single point of entry through the front office.
With large campuses and multiple buildings, BKP asked, “Would you look at letting teachers or putting that program into place at your schools to allow weapons in there and how would it work?”
Texas has legislation, School Marshal, to allow teachers to carry weapons on campus, and Florida recently passed similar legislation. Currently in Georgia, there is no statewide legislation on the issue, but rather Georgia allows local school districts to create their own policies regarding this matter.
Gilmer County has looked at sample legislation from other counties in the past, but never voted to enact a policy. Wilkes said that she would favor a policy that would require the individual to qualify with a firearm and that would obligate the individual to attend an annual firearm training course.
Wilkes also would like there to be anonymity in which teachers are armed within the school.
“It would have to be very regulated. It takes the right person, like it takes the right SRO,” Wilkes shared of her stance.
Gwatney was not opposed to the idea but does not want it to negatively affect an educator’s job: “The purpose of a teacher to care for the kids and teach for the kids. We don’t want to create a situation where we force the teacher to try to take on a law enforcement role.”
The panel also expressed frustrations on a system that sometimes works against them in their efforts to keep our children safe.
On a criminal level, Sheriff Nicholson expressed disappointment in a system that seems increasingly unwilling to keep a juvenile in detainment: “It’s getting harder and harder to get someone detained. That’s frustrating.”
Sosebee confirmed Nicholson’s frustration and explained, “Part of that, the court system with relation to that, is the restrictions that are put on the court system as to when these juveniles can be detained and when they cannot be detained and that is where a lot of the hands tying is coming from, from the court system.”
Just like law enforcement, the school systems feel that there is legislation and policy in place that ties their hands when they witness “red flags”.
BKP pointed out the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which has grown since it was first enacted and states that schools being a government agency must accommodate individuals with diagnosed disabilities.
Wilkes acknowledged that the ADA does play a heavy role in how schools can handle disciplinary situations: “In many cases, you’re dealing with students who have a disability such as an emotional behavioral disorder, which falls under special education.”
In such cases, if a student makes a threat or acts in a way that requires disciplinary action, the school must first have a Manifestation Hearing.
In a Manifestation Hearing, a panel is made up of a licensed school psychologist, the student’s special education case manager, a teacher that works directly with the student, an administrator, and the parents or guardians of the child.
The panel determines if the threat or infraction is directly related to the student’s disability. If it is deemed that it is in relation to the disability, then disciplinary action cannot be taken.
If it is deemed that the issue is not related to the child’s disability, then a tribunal is formed to determine what disciplinary actions should be taken.
“If a student has any disability at all,” Wilkes clarified, “even if it’s a learning disability in reading, and let’s say they try to burn down the school, then we have to have a manifestation hearing to see if that learning disability led to them trying to burn down the school.”
Due to this process and the strict rules surrounding juvenile privacy, Wilkes stated if it is related to a disability “our hands are tied as to what we can do.”
The panel agreed that collaboration between departments along with a proactive stance on safety is the best route to take when it comes to the welfare of our counties’ children but felt that changes could be made in legislation that would make providing our schools with this security a much more efficient process.
You can watch BKP’s Good Morning From The Office #AnythingGoes School Safety Special in the video below.
ATLANTA, Ga. – National controversy swirled after Delta publicly discontinued their group discount relationship with the NRA (National Rifle Association). Then again as the Georgia State Senate removed a tax bill involving the aviation fuel tax credit, which would have benefited Delta in the area of $40 million.
That controversy spread through social media when Delta announced their decision on Twitter. Later, Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle tweeted that he would “kill any tax legislation that benefits @Delta.” Since then, social media has erupted in debate on gun control, the recent school shootings, and these two entities of Delta and the NRA.
Today, FetchYourNews has obtained an internal memo from Delta to its colleagues. The memo speaks on Delta’s decision for ending the discount as well as their stance on the connection between the decision and the tax bill.
DALTON, Ga. – The Dalton Police Department is on scene at Dalton High School where shots have been fired.
Dalton Police report that no student was injured by the shooting and all students are out of harm’s way. They also report the subject, a teacher, has been taken into custody.
The subject had barricaded themselves into a classroom earlier today before firing a weapon. Local police and Georgia State Patrol responded to the initial call. Concerning those reports that have come about a student injured during the evacuation, the Dalton Police were adamant that no student was injured by the shooting.
Police are also asking parents to NOT go to Dalton High School as they say, “The area inside the school has been evacuated and there are no students believed to be in the school at this time.”
The evacuated students have been taken to the Northwest Georgia Trade Center where police report parents should go for their children.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Congressman Doug Collins made a brief stop at the Republican Women of Gilmer County meeting Thursday, Feb. 22. Collins has served as a U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 9th Congressional District since 2013.
Collins spoke to the crowd concerning on a number of issues currently being addressed in Washington D.C. and took several questions from audience members on a wide variety of subjects.
“We came through a year, last year, where our biggest failure overall was, frankly, healthcare,” Collins stated, giving attendees an update on the happenings in our capital.
Feeling that the House did their job in trying to address some of the difficulties the nation faces when it comes to healthcare, Collins said that reform and change fell short due to the Senate.
“We did our job. We passed something to the Senate,” Collins explained. “The Senate is just marred and not moving.”
Collins has been a long time advocate to change rules that dictate the actions of the Senate. These regulations can and often do slow or completely stall progress from being made in our nation. In Congress, legislation can be passed by a simple majority vote.
The Senate, however, requires a supermajority of 60 votes for many pieces of legislation to pass rather than the 51 votes that would be required if the Senate went by simple majority vote.
“The 60 vote rule has got to go,” Collins spoke straightforward about his feelings on the issue, “at least on appropriations.”
According to Collins, the Senate currently has many pieces of legislation passed by Congress and has created a bottleneck in moving forward. Collins stated that of the bills currently sitting at the Senate waiting to be addressed, 85 to 90 percent of these bills were passed by Congress with fewer than five representatives voting against their moving forward.
In regards to healthcare, Collins said that there needs to be review and scrutiny of mandatory spending such as Medicaid. He stressed that he is not in favor of eliminating such programs but wants to slow the expansion.
“Medicaid was meant for the aged, blind, disabled and those who couldn’t take care of themselves,” Collins said, expressing his thoughts on this particular program. “You put a healthy able-bodied adult on Medicaid (and) what you do is you take healthcare away from the aged, blind, disabled and those who can’t take care of themselves.”
“That’s just wrong. That’s why we got to fix healthcare,” Collins added.
Several questions concerning gun control and safety in public schools were asked in the wake of another mass shooting that took place last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“This week was another tragedy of a very sick individual doing something very wrong and very twisted, using a gun,” Collins, a supporter of the Second Amendment, explained of his thoughts on how these situations should be approached on a federal level. “A gun did not walk into that school and kill anybody.”
Stressing the need for compassion for those on the opposite side of the political spectrum, Collins wants there to be meaningful discussion and meaningful answers to this problem. He fears that passing any “bumper sticker” legislation as a quick fix would only fail shortly after.
“Are there responsible ownership of guns? You better believe it. Do some people probably not need to own a gun? Yeah,” Collins stated, proposing a look at circumstances in a realistic fashion.
While Collins does feel that certain agencies dropped the ball and should have to answer for and be held accountable to their mistakes, he also feels that first as a nation we need to uphold the laws that are currently in place.
Collins expressed these thoughts: “Explain to me how I can pass a law, that if they are ignoring it now, how does passing another law make it better?”
Collins was optimistic about certain directions the country is currently heading: “Our country is being portrayed as strong again.”
“We are starting to see the economy start to take off again,” Collins said, addressing the recent passing of the Tax Reform Act and the need for more employees in the workforce.
“We are trying to move what we know as Welfare to Work,” Collins said, discussing current legislation being proposed in Congress. “We are trying to get people through bad times, you know when we need to help them, but it is now time to begin that transition off of the assistance programs into meaningful work.”
Audience member, Noraye Hinds, brought up a key issue that is of concern to Republicans in the upcoming 2018 election year: “Hate is a motivator, and that is what is going to get the Democrats out to vote.”
Collins agreed and said, “We’ve got a tough year coming.”
Collins explained that on average, there is a loss of 32 seats held by the majority in the House in a mid-term election following a presidential election. Furthering concern for the Republicans, 26 of the seats up for election this year are in districts that Hillary Clinton won majority vote.
“If we lose 24 (seats), we lose the majority,” Collins spoke frankly.
He spoke of specific seats that Democrats are targeting in Georgia. Representative Karen Handel of Georgia’s 6th District and Congressman Rob Woodall of Georgia’s 7th District could face tough elections as the demographics of their areas are changing.
Collins spoke exclusively with FetchYourNews (FYN) about concerns over losing control of the House.
In a controversial move Feb. 19, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a new map for the state’s U.S. House of Representatives districts. The new map, aimed at removing what some in the state considered Republican gerrymandering, now seems to favor Democrats.
Collins told FYN, “This is very concerning. You’re looking at worst case a 9-9 map. Best case a 10-8 map.”
According to Collins there is not much that can be done to overturn the changes made in Pennsylvania. In order to be challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court there must be proof of a violation of U.S. law, but since the state Supreme Court ruling was based on the Pennsylvania Constitution, it is unlikely that federal courts would get involved.
Collins told FYN, as of right now, there is not major concern that other states will follow suit in redistricting, and praised his home state of Georgia: “Georgia has some of the cleanest maps in the country.”
“What I view as a good map,” Collins said, further explaining his feelings on the district layout of Georgia, “Does it reflect the homogeneity of an area, does it reflect the population of an area and does it give everybody a chance? If it does that, then you’re meeting most of the test.”
Collins feels there are two key issues that might hurt Republicans in the upcoming elections. The first being that while Republicans have a good message, sometimes that message does not get portrayed clearly.
“Turn out is our problem,” Collins expressed of the second and potentially more damaging issue. Collins urged those in attendance to be active in not only voting themselves but in spreading the word about candidates in the state of Georgia.
Collins thanked constitutes for electing him to his position and spoke candidly about his job: “At the end of the day, it’s about helping people. It’s about realizing where you come from.”
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Coming from Athens-Clarke County, Kemp says he got frustrated with the local government’s regulations and taxes. He went on to say, “I wanted to make government smaller. I wanted to make it more efficient. I wanted to streamline it. I was tired of liberal, big Democratic policies going on in state government.”
Moving ahead to his current campaign, Kemp told those present to look at the candidates and ask, “Who do you actually trust to do what they say?”
Kemp noted his use of technology to advance Georgia saying, “I do have that record of using technology to change our corporate filing system where now, the last two years in a row, we have literally set records for the number of annual registrations we’re doing in the first quarter … We also implemented a state-wide voter registration system, a new system because our old one was failing and it was on the state’s old mainframe computer. This is literally a state-wide IT project where we had to go through year-long procurement and then implement this new system in all 159 counties, retraining all the county registrars and election workers on how to use it. But we did that because we now have a better system that does more for the local election folks.”
Elections became a closer focus in Kemp’s meeting as he spoke about supporting the photo ID law for securing elections. Kemp stated he has been attacked by several politicians calling him a voter suppressor. Adamantly denying the claim, he noted 800,000 more people on voter rolls now than when he took office. Though accused of suppressing voting, Kemp noted record turnouts for voting in Georgia for the last elections we have had including the 2016 Presidential Election, the SEC Regional Primary, and even the Karen Handel versus Jon Ossoff special election.
Focusing on his four-point-plan, Kemp took his time to explain his ideas for the governor’s office and his next steps if he gets elected. Noting his first point of making Georgia the number one state in the country for small business, Kemp said that he is a small business guy who spent and still spends time with his construction company. Saying 95 percent of corporations in Georgia’s 700,000 companies employ less than 50 people, he added that Ellijay itself is built on the backs of small businesses.
As his second point, Kemp claimed he wants to fundamentally reform state government through its budget, operations, and taxes. This brought up points of the spending cap and tax reform. Kemp said the only tax breaks he has seen is for those who have lobbyists before adding, “I’m wanting to be your lobbyist as governor, your lobbyist to give you tax breaks.”
Accomplishing this, according to Kemp, would require implementing the spending cap and budgeting conservatively in order to have money left over at the end of the year. Having money left over would lead to the real tax reform. Kemp added he did not care who it was, he would work with anyone on tax reform as long as it is broad based.
“The third point is making sure all of Georgia has the same opportunity; we’re moving all of Georgia forward. It’s not healthy for our state when we only have certain communities that are growing and thriving,” said Kemp, who added that he was the first candidate to make a plan to strengthen rural Georgia including protecting our military bases, taking the Georgia Grown program internationally, and creating economic strike teams to focus investments and job opportunities for projects of real regional significance.
Resting on his fourth point, Kemp said it was something that is easy to say, but not for politicians to follow through on. “Putting Georgians First” has become a campaign slogan for Kemp in addition to a trending hashtag #gafirst. Kemp delved deeper into the topic saying he wanted citizens ahead of special interest groups. He also wants to enforce the ban on sanctuary cities saying, “It’s ridiculous that we have states like California that are now wanting to become sanctuary states when we’re not even taking care of our people and our own veterans. Illegals can go into hospital rooms and get free healthcare and our own people are getting priced out of the market.”
Closing his speech, Kemp told those present that he could not do it alone saying, “I cannot win this race without your help.” Stating he was not a special interest candidate, Kemp claimed he has the resources to win and the “best ground game in the state” with locals and citizens who endorse his message and his campaign. He called it a grassroots army that he was raising through people who would support him.
After delivering his message, Kemp took a few moments to answer questions. Generally focusing on elections, voter IDs, and ballots, Kemp noted there is not a verifiable paper audit trail in current systems. With an aging system that has been near collapse, Kemp says they have been looking at options for the next system to use. Considering electronic systems versus paper ballots, the discussion of what system should be used has caused debate.
Kemp spoke about a test last November in Conyers as a pilot: “You vote on a marking device like we have now. Then, once you hit submit, it prints the ballot out. You can hold it in your hand. You can look at your selections … Let’s say it’s not like you want it, you take it to a poll worker, they spoil the ballot, and you go back. If it is like you want to vote, you go to a scanner. It scans that ballot, counts it electronically, so you have the electronic count. Then it drops it into a locked ballot box, so you have the paper receipt. So, you actually have two ways to audit after the election.”
FetchYourNews also got a chance to ask Kemp about his opinions on Senate Bill 375, “Keep Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act.” Though Kemp said he had not fully read 375, he said he signed the pledge to support religious liberty legislation that was vetoed in recent years. A topic that has divided lawmakers and legislators, the religious liberty pledge could set the future of reviving that legislation. While supporters point to the protection legislation like 375 could afford businesses and departments, opponents fire back with allegations of “legalized discrimination.”
Kemp said in today’s Tea Party meeting, “The sky is not falling if we protect religious freedom and religious liberty by signing a bill in Georgia that references what is in federal law.” Calling it a common sense thing, he says he is supportive of the issue. However, signing the religious freedom bill may make Bill 375 a “non-issue.”
Gov. Nathan Deal, along with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston, today outlined updates to HB 918, which addresses state tax code. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Efstration, now combines the 2017 Internal Revenue Code (IRC) bill, HB 821, with 2018 IRC updates. It also addresses the state revenue projections resulting from the Federal Tax Act.
HB 918 would double the standard deduction for Georgia taxpayers for all filing statuses, effective Jan. 1, 2018. It would also reduce the income tax rate for individuals and businesses from 6 percent to 5.75 percent effective Jan. 1, 2019. Finally, the legislation includes a provision further reducing the tax rate to 5.5 percent, effective Jan. 1, 2020. This reduction would require approval of the General Assembly and signature of the governor in order to take effect.
The bill will also help our state be more competitive by eliminating the sales tax on jet fuel, which will encourage airlines to fly additional direct flights from Georgia to destinations around the globe.
“Taxpayers have already started to experience the positive effects of federal tax reform here in Georgia and throughout the country,” said Deal. “Our state is also projected to benefit significantly in the coming years. The legislation presented today is a result of ongoing dialogue between House and Senate leadership and addresses Georgia’s projected windfall while balancing the state’s fiscal health and protecting our AAA bond rating.
“This bill keeps more of taxpayers’ hard-earned money in their pockets by doubling the standard deduction and reducing income tax rates. It will save taxpayers more than $5 billion over the next five years. Doubling the standard deduction will also allow Georgia filers to take fuller advantage of the newly enhanced federal standard deduction. Further, these combined changes mark one of the biggest income tax cuts in state history, and does so in a fiscally responsible manner. The standard deduction was last increased in 1981. The individual rate was set at 6 percent in 1937 and has not changed since, while the corporate rate has also remained at 6 percent since 1969. I’m confident HB 918 will be passed by the General Assembly quickly and immediately transmitted to my desk. The sooner I sign this landmark reform legislation, the sooner taxpayers may file.”
“This historic tax cut lowers Georgia’s income tax rate for the first time ever, returning significant savings to millions of families across our state,” said Cagle. “Most importantly, this framework sets the stage for continued reductions – building on the Trump administration’s tax reform to allow Georgians to keep more of what they earn.”
“I am committed to keeping the tax burden on Georgians as low as possible,” said Ralston. “This measure is yet another example of the General Assembly working with Governor Deal to empower families to save more of their money. I appreciate the Governor’s leadership and the cooperation between the House and the Senate in developing this income tax cut legislation. I look forward to it moving quickly through the legislative process.”
ATLANTA – Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) attended President Trump’s infrastructure announcement at The White House this morning. Speaker Ralston was one of several local and state elected officials invited to participate in a series of discussions with the President as well as members of his cabinet and senior staff about the plan and the infrastructure needs facing our nation.
“I appreciate President Trump’s emphasis on public-private partnerships, as well as rural areas of America, as we look to address the nation’s infrastructure needs,” said Speaker Ralston. “Much like his Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, this measure will make a real difference in projects of profound economic importance like the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project or long-overdue efforts like expanding broadband infrastructure into rural areas. This is another example of President Trump focusing on creating jobs and expanding economic opportunity across our country. I am honored to represent the State of Georgia at this important announcement.”
President Trump’s infrastructure plan looks to leverage the power of public-private partnerships to improve the nation’s infrastructure including transportation, water/sewer and other critical needs like broadband internet access. More details on the President’s plan are available on The White House website at http://www.whitehouse.gov.