- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Dec. 15

The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer on uncontested elections:

Longtime readers of the Ledger-Enquirer are probably aware of our long-standing support for U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. We have endorsed him repeatedly, praised him frequently and criticized him but rarely. He is a public servant of effectiveness and integrity.

Georgia needs somebody to run against him.

Does that mean he has worn out his welcome as a voice for his state and country in the federal legislative branch’s Upper Chamber? Absolutely not; nor does it suggest that he has any less of our support this year, or is less likely to get our endorsement next year, than in the past.

But as of now, Georgia’s senior U.S. senator is unopposed — both from with his own party, which isn’t surprising (why would the GOP consider intraparty opposition to one of its stalwarts?) — and from the Democrats, which is unfortunate. It’s unfortunate less for the party than for the voters of Georgia.

We understand the political and practical realities. Running a political race, especially for an office of the importance of the United States Senate, is incredibly expensive. It’s grueling and time-consuming and humbling, sometimes humiliating. In a firmly “Red” state like Georgia, some consider it futile.

But a genuinely contested race, with a healthy, substantive, issue-centered debate, is in the best interests of the state. In the largest sense, it’s in the interest of the senator himself. Nothing hones one’s senses of principle and purpose like having those things publicly challenged.

The thinking of most observers in the state, according to a McClatchy political analysis, is that the strongest potential Democratic contenders think the time is not yet right, and are perhaps waiting to run for a future open seat rather than challenge a strong incumbent.

Even in an open race, McClatchy notes, Democrats might be deterred by Michelle Nunn’s 2014 defeat. Jennifer Duffy, senior editor at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, told McClatchy that Nunn “was a strong candidate. She was a good fundraiser. She was a good campaigner.”

But that might be an implicit overestimation of Nunn’s strategy. Yes, she had name recognition, thanks to the distinguished Senate career of her famous father. But Nunn, as Red State Democrats so often do (seldom successfully), ran less as a Democratic moderate than as Republican Lite. Voters want clear choices, not politically bland alternatives.

They deserve a real choice in the 2016 Senate race as well. Yes, Isakson’s $5.3 million campaign chest is an intimidating obstacle, especially given the likelihood that the national Democratic Party will put most of its money into what it considers the most winnable races. (Democrats need just a five-seat gain to win a Senate majority.)

Still, somebody needs to make this race competitive — intellectually and ideologically, if not financially. Even the best elected officials should have to earn a new contract.

Online:

http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/

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Dec. 14

The Augusta Chronicle on civil forfeiture laws:

Earlier this year we told you the story of Andrew Clyde, the gun dealer from Athens, Georgia, whose bank account was looted of $950,000 by Internal Revenue Service agents who thought his cash deposits looked suspicious.

Clyde was never convicted of a crime, or even charged with one, but it took him nearly $100,000 in legal fees and a $50,000 payment to the IRS to get his money out of “civil asset forfeiture” through federal court.

Turns out there are plenty of Andrew Clydes out there, based on a recent study by the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit civil liberties organization.

Its recent report showed the federal government confiscated $4.5 billion from Americans through civil asset forfeiture in 2014, which is more than the $3.9 billion that the FBI says was stolen in burglaries that same year.

Let that sink in a moment: Government agents took more money and property from Americans last year than burglars.

This page has called for major changes to state and federal civil asset forfeiture laws to stop the government from taking people’s property on mere suspicion alone. But the Arlington, Virginia-based institute’s shocking report demonstrates just how urgent the problem is.

Congress should enact reforms such as the bipartisan FAIR act, which would increase the burden of proof at the federal level and eliminate individual agencies’ abilities to profit from the assets they seize. That should be a top priority. State legislatures should follow suit.

Georgia and South Carolina state forfeiture laws are particularly abysmal, with each state scoring a “D-minus” on the Institute of Justice’s report. Police in Georgia, for example, can seize property even if it doesn’t belong to the person they suspect of criminal activity. So not only can police take your property on mere suspicion, they can do it when it’s not even in your possession. How perverse.

But reform legislation should only be considered a first step. Eventually, the only way to eliminate this theft-by-government is to completely abolish civil asset forfeiture.

There’s no reason not to: Under no circumstances should the government take property away from someone not convicted of a crime.

But that’s precisely what happened in more than 87 percent of federal asset seizures last year, according to the report. That means that in the vast majority of cases, the government didn’t have to charge anyone, didn’t have to present evidence of illegal activity and didn’t have to give the property owner his or her “day in court” in order to take and keep their assets.

And if those people fought to get their stuff back, as Mr. Clyde’s case shows, they often paid a pretty penny just to contest the seizure.

The flawed federal civil asset forfeiture laws, and the equally unfair state laws they have influenced, grew out of the war on drugs because law enforcement needed a way to put cartel leaders and large-scale traffickers out of business. But it’s obvious that too many forfeiture proceedings are being initiated against low-level criminals and - in the most egregious cases - people who aren’t criminals at all.

Something has gone horribly awry when Americans have more reason to fear the government than burglars.

Online:

http://chronicle.augusta.com/

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The Rome News-Tribune on the Affordable Care Act:

Obamacare sticker shock is looming for millions of people as penalties for not having health insurance mandated by the misnamed Affordable Care Act will increase sharply next year.

The average penalty in 2016 will be $969 per household, 47 percent higher than the estimated 2015 average of $661, according to a new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Uninsured people who qualify for federal premium subsidies face an average $738 penalty - tax - per household next year. The penalty, which has to be paid when yearly taxes are filed, will be the greater of (1) $695 per adult plus $347.50 per child up to $2,085 maximum for a family, or (2) 2.5 percent of family income exceeding the 2015 income tax filing thresholds.

Yet the least expensive insurance option, the analysis found, “would cost more than the estimated individual mandate penalty for about 7.1 million uninsured people eligible to purchase an ACA marketplace plan with or without subsidies.” Thus the choice for many middle income families is between paying a penalty of nearly $1,000 or buying an insurance policy with a low premium and high deductible. For example, a couple with two young children earning $40,000 a year could get a “Bronze” plan, the least expensive, for $49 a month but with a $12,000 annual deductible - which must be paid by the insured each year before the plan pays a dime.

This is the real life impact of Obamacare, rammed through Congress by Democrats without a single Republican vote and in the face of opposition by a majority of the American people who still don’t want it. The latest Rasmussen poll showed 56 percent of likely voters opposing the individual mandate, highest level in two years, with only 32 percent in favor, the lowest level of support since 2012 when the firm began sampling opinion on that question.

Georgia is a fertile field for the mandated tax penalties. This state has more than 1.8 million uninsured, according to a recent Census Bureau report, although the uninsured rate dipped three percentage points to 15.8 percent in 2014. Georgia’s rate was the fourth highest in the country behind Texas, Alaska and Florida. Nationally, an estimated 33 million people were still without insurance - a powerful commentary on the failure of this government-imposed program.

The uninsured problem is one of the factors in Georgia’s ranking of 46th among the states in the Commonwealth Fund’s 2015 health system card ranking “overall performance.” Our state came in dead last at 50th for adults without health care because of costs. On that point, Marsha Davis, associate dean in the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health, told Georgia Health News that state policymakers should consider expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income people.

That’s been a non-starter with Gov. Nathan Deal and the Georgia General Assembly, which enacted a law requiring legislative approval of any expansion of Medicaid. Deal has warned that Medicaid expansion would cost the state an additional $2.5 billion over a decade.

“We simply cannot afford the $2.5 billion in new spending that the expansion would require without a severe impact on public education,” Deal said. Instead of the heavy-handed federal mandate, Deal has repeatedly called for a federal block grant approach providing states more flexibility “to make their program work for their unique population rather than a one-size-fits-all Washington mandate.”

It would be a minimal reform even if outright repeal of Obamacare cannot be accomplished until and unless Republicans gain control of the White House. The block grant plan is a common sense approach that would enable more people to be insured and get needed medical care - but unfortunately, common sense is not a common commodity in Washington, and our country continues to be the worse for it.

Online:

http://www.northwestgeorgianews.com/

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