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Seeing the year out with some good people

Posted: December 31, 2014 - 12:15am

In recent polls, only 15 percent of Americans said they approve of the way Congress is handling its job. President Obama is doing a little better, but not much.

As we reach the end of another year, I want to go against the flow and note a few people in public life who deserve thanks for what they’ve done.

Sally Bethea has stepped down as the director of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper after 20 years with the environmental group that has tried to clean up one of Georgia’s major water sources. She has lobbied tirelessly to protect the state’s waterways.

One of the major accomplishments of Bethea and her organization was a lawsuit they filed against Atlanta in 1995 over the wretched condition of the city’s sewer system.

City officials eventually agreed to a massive overhaul and have since spent $2 billion on renovating Atlanta’s sewers and storm drains.

Bethea can leave Chattahoochee Riverkeeper with the knowledge that she really did make a difference for those who need clean water – which is everybody.

State Rep. Allen Peake (R-Macon) is a businessman who owns and operates several franchise restaurants in Middle Georgia. He hardly fits the profile of someone you’d expect to take on the crusade of legalizing marijuana.

Medical marijuana has become Peake’s cause, however, and he came very close to getting a bill passed last year to allow the limited use of cannabis oil for some medical treatments.

Peake’s motivation comes from observing the horrifying effects of uncontrolled seizures on young children, a condition that often forced their parents to move to Colorado where marijuana derivatives can legally be used for treatment.

“We need to bring Georgia families home,” Peake said. “That’s why I’ll fight to my last breath for these families.”

He will try again to get a medical marijuana bill passed in the upcoming session.

State Rep. Stacey Evans (D-Smyrna) is a young lawyer who was the first person in her family to earn a college degree. She understands the value of the financial assistance provided to students by the HOPE scholarship program.

In 2011, as part of their efforts to make the HOPE program more financially stable, legislators approved new rules that raised the required grade-point average for technical college students who had been receiving HOPE grants to help pay tuition costs.

More than 11,000 students subsequently lost their HOPE grants and enrollment in the state’s technical colleges plummeted because many could not afford to stay in school. That was a crippling blow to Gov. Nathan Deal’s goal of having a better-educated workforce.

Evans sponsored a bill to return to the former grade-point requirement, and her cause was taken up by Deal and the legislative leadership. A measure was eventually passed that enabled thousands of students to get HOPE assistance and return to the technical colleges.

William R. Jacobs is not a politician – he’s an engineer with three Georgia Tech degrees who knows quite a lot about how to build a nuclear power plant.

Jacobs was hired by the Public Service Commission several years ago to monitor Georgia Power’s construction of two new reactors at Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro.

He and his associates have been trying to warn the PSC that the project is falling farther behind schedule. Vogtle is currently about 21 months late and Jacobs told the PSC last week that completion could be delayed for up to another 12 months.

Those delays would be very costly. Each extra day adds an estimated $2 million to the final cost of Vogtle’s construction, so a 12-month delay would total more than $700 million in overruns. Georgia Power will try to pass along those additional costs to its customers in the form of higher rates unless the PSC stands up to the utility giant.

Jacobs has done his job by bringing these delays to the PSC’s attention. It will be up to the PSC either to rule for Georgia Power or for millions of financially pressed customers.

I understand why there is such a dislike of Congress, the Legislature and elected officials. There are some people in the political arena, however, who try to do the right things for the right reasons.

Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an internet news service at gareport.com that reports on state government and politics. He can be reached at tcrawford@gareport.com.

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Comments (1)

Little Lamb

Medical Marijuana

State Rep. Allen Peake (R.–Macon) would have seen his medical marijuana bill readily pass both houses of the General Assembly last year (and also be signed eagerly by Gov. Deal) had not Rep. Ben Harbin foolishly tack on his amendment to force Georgia taxpayers to finance untested (and thus, unapproved) therapy costing tens of thousands of dollars per patient per year for "intensive" psychiatric therapy for autistic children.

The costs for Georgia taxpayers (neither insurance companies nor medicaid would cover the unproven therapy) would have been in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Thus, legislators wisely decided to reject the marijuana bill with Harbin's autism rider tacked on.

Rep. Ben Harbin had a conflict of interest in pushing this bill. It would have benefited a personal friend of his.

Let us get a "clean" bill this session.

Butt out this time, Ben.