- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Sept. 21

The Brunswick (Georgia) News on keeping state motorists safe:

Capt. William L. Hires, coordinator of the Coastal Area Traffic Enforcement Network for the Georgia Highway Safety Office, says it is unlikely the state will meet its life protection goal this year. As of last week, 928 men, women and children had lost their lives in motor vehicle accidents on roads and highways across the Peach State.

The goal of the Highway Safety Office for 2015 was to keep the number of fatalities below 1,000. That is unlikely to happen at the current rate, Capt. Hires suggests. With more than three months left on the calendar, he may be right. It’s even more unlikely when considering two of the biggest holiday travel times for individuals and families - Thanksgiving and Christmas - are still ahead.

Capt. Hires calls the alarming toll a “deadly epidemic.” That might be an accurate description if “deadly epidemic” is a cover word for the likes of recklessness, carelessness and callousness, a lack of concern for the life and safety of others.

While certainly not all, most accidents that lead to someone’s death can be attributed to one of the three. These include collisions where a driver is traveling over the speed limit or too fast for conditions, like during heavy downpours. A motorist gets in a rush or thinks he or she is blessed with superhuman, quick reflexes or is more skilled at the wheel than others and assumes the attitude that posted speed limits are for others.

Allowing oneself to become distracted, like talking on a cellphone, trying to text someone or scanning a device for directions, is also adding to the death toll.

How many times have you seen a vehicle suddenly swerve to the left or right on an interstate or major highway? A frightening sight indeed, and one that indicates the motorist is risking his life and everyone else’s simply to respond to a text with LOL. It can wait, or if it is really that important, pull off to the shoulder of the road.

Motorists on Georgia’s highways can prevent the loss of life. All they have to do is care enough for themselves and others to drive safely and obey traffic laws.

Online:

https://www.thebrunswicknews.com

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Sept. 20

The Times, Gainesville, Georgia, on students receiving copies of the Constitution:

The Georgia Department of Education has engaged in an ambitious plan to mark Constitution Week, which runs Sept. 17-23. The idea is for every fourth-grader in the state’s public schools, more than 120,000 in all, to receive a pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution, paid for by donations and not taxpayer funds.

Whoever paid for it, it’s a great idea that should have been standard procedure all along. The effort to teach the Constitution, its meaning and its impact should take a back seat to no other subject. What good is a nation of brilliant scientists and mathematicians who don’t understand how their government works? Generations of future voters must start these lessons early.

In the effort to celebrate this amazing and enduring document, we’d like to see a few other folks handed copies of it in hopes they may better comprehend it as well.

Students can start by lending the copies to their parents. The daily political clamor from chattering pundits can lead to ill-informed votes without a solid foundation of knowledge. The more we all know about what the Constitution says - and just as important, what it doesn’t say - the better prepared we are to measure politicians’ plans and performances.

It would also behoove candidates for president to read the Constitution carefully, as we suspect some have no clue what it really says. They should pay particular attention to Article II that describes the powers of the office they seek. Some may be shocked to find its scope is much more limited and not aligned with many of the promises they make on the stump.

I’ll build a wall at the border, one says, and spend billions to deport all illegal immigrants. Another wants to tap the incomes of the wealthy to fund “free” college tuition and other social needs - though “free” in the case of government programs means “someone else pays for it.”

In either case, the power to fund these proposals isn’t fully within their grasp without Congress’ approval. Remember Congress? It’s that big white building up Pennsylvania Avenue full of annoying people - most of them wealthy, by the way - that nobody likes. It’s covered in Article I. If you’re running for president rather than emperor, you’re going to have to hold your nose and work with the legislative branch, like it or not.

Yet members of Congress themselves often lack an understanding of the document that set up our government. They, too, promise more than they can possibly deliver to gain favor with their constituents.

Meanwhile, many believe the Supreme Court justices tasked with upholding the Constitution have instead violated it by stepping beyond their assigned powers of judicial review to legislate from the bench. That argument persists over the summer ruling that overturned states’ ban on same-sex marriage. Opponents cite the 10th Amendment, which leaves powers not specified in the Constitution to the states; those siding with the majority claim the state bans violated the 14th Amendment of due process and equal protection under the law.

So here we have learned legal scholars on both sides expressing divergent views of the Constitution by using its different parts to make their cases. That’s nothing new, really. Americans often will seize upon the issue of the day and apply whichever part of the Constitution fits their goals, be it the quest for religious freedom under the First Amendment or amassing assault rifles under the Second. Those same people just as easily dismiss other portions that don’t serve their needs.

From this, students can learn that the American people and their leaders remain in an ongoing tug-of-war over which should prevail: a strict interpretation of constitutional law vs. the implied intent of a “living document” applied to modern concerns.

Perhaps its authors intended such a debate. Even as they established a framework for law and liberty emulated by free societies for two centuries, they may have wondered: Will it be enough? Can a great nation emerge from a single set of guidelines, or is there more to creating self-governance than these words alone? Intended or otherwise, the resulting process has helped make us what we are today, for better or worse.

True, sorting through the Constitution is a messy process, but that is part of its genius. It is just specific enough to maintain an orderly system of checks and balances, yet leaves the door cracked for interpretation, forcing Americans to decide what kind of nation we want to be. A constitution that laid it all out for us might not allow for this give-and-take of ideas.

This exchange often leads to dissension, but ultimately to compromise and the consensus needed to govern a land so vast, diverse and divided. Without the red-faced, table-beating arguments over the Constitution, we might become a nation of compliant drones that no longer question authority.

If a neater process seems preferable, remember the absence of such dialogue throughout history has allowed tyrants and oligarchs to gain control by codifying into law the whims of their oppression.

We should all read the Constitution and work harder to understand it. Then we should argue our faces off in defense of what we believe it to mean against all who think otherwise. Through that process, we infuse it with the lifeblood that binds us together as a nation that is still creating itself. That’s a lesson to learn that will serve us all well.

Online:

https://www.gainesvilletimes.com

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Sept. 20

The Savannah (Georgia) Morning News on new state lawmaker’s tax break bill:

Freshman lawmaker Jesse Petrea hits a home run with his first piece of major legislation. The Savannah Republican who was elected to the House in 2014 is pre-filing legislation that would exempt military pensions from state income tax and, as an added bonus, would indirectly discourage Georgians from smoking cigarettes.

The tax break would cost the state treasury about $120 million in revenue. But the tobacco tax hike would generate a like amount in new money. Hence Mr. Petrea’s bill would be revenue-neutral, which is essential during a time of tight state budgets.

Mr. Petrea would boost the tax on cigarettes by 28 cents per pack, leaving the 65-cent total below the national average of $1.60. That shouldn’t put Georgia retailers at a major disadvantage, but it would help discourage some youngsters from taking up smoking and developing an unhealthy habit.

A tax-exemption for vets sponsored in the last session of the General Assembly by the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee stalled because of the projected drain on the state treasury.

“I knew I had to find a way to pay for it,” said Petrea, who never served in the military but whose district in Chatham and Bryan counties includes many veterans.

Georgia already exempts most retirement income for older retirees. Those between ages 62 and 64 pay no tax on $35,000 of pensions, and the exemption rises to $65,000 for people older than 65.

But Petrea said he wants to attract younger retirees who might start a second career in Georgia since they have maturity and valuable job skills.

“I believe it is the least we can do for what our veterans do for us,” he said.

He expects opposition from the convenience-store lobby, but he cites polls showing that 78 percent of Georgians support a higher tobacco tax, including half of all smokers.

One possible critic sees no problem. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, an Atlanta-based advocacy for increased social spending, has generally opposed new tax breaks.

But its tax-policy analyst, Wesley Tharpe, said Thursday he can support Petrea’s idea.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that idea on the merits,” he said.

He even recommended sweetening it by creating a state version of the income tax credit. That would benefit the more than 80,000 veterans still working in low-wage jobs who got the federal credit in Georgia last year. Mr. Tharpe would make the credit available to all low-income Georgians. That idea is worth considering for fairness reasons.

Taxing smokers to generate more revenue isn’t a new idea. Another local lawmaker, State Rep. Ron Stephens, R.-Savannah, tried to do it multiple times to help offset the rising cost to the state of treating poor patients with smoking related illnesses. Georgia has a Medicaid gap of more than $300 million in caring for Georgians with smoking related illnesses. About 28 percent of Georgians smoke. That mean the 82 percent that doesn’t smoke is subsidizing those who do.

Unfortunately, most lawmakers wouldn’t buy this simple logic and Mr. Stephens was unsuccessful. Let’s hope Mr. Petrea fares better, as veterans who served this nation at home and abroad are a worthy group and making cigarettes more expensive should reduce the number of Georgians who smoke and cut health-care expenses. That makes his bill a win-win-win for the public.

We encourage Chatham County’s legislative delegation and others in the legislature to give this bill their full support.

Online:

https://www.savannahnow.com

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