- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Aug. 15

The Augusta Chronicle recommends civil discourse and separate times for counter-protests following the violent weekend in Charlottesville:

It’s been 152 years since the end of the Civil War. Maybe it’s time for a reconciliation commission.

Leaving behind a bloody, divisive, racially charged past while still living among reminders of it was always going to be a delicate matter. But at least we’re doing it in the worst way possible! No meaningful dialogue, just angry confrontation. And, in the case of Charlottesville, Virginia, injury, death and reopened wounds.

Seriously, is this the best we can do?

First, let’s just all agree that the fringe white supremacy kooks, particularly the one who murdered a protester in cold blood with his car, don’t speak for anyone but themselves. Just as homicidal jihadists don’t speak for peaceful Muslims. And, as one commentator noted, they are definitely fringe: Despite weeks of publicity to protest the impending removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, the neo-Nazis and others only attracted a few hundred to Charlottesville.

That, of course, was several hundred little weekend Nazis too many. And what utter Einsteins - protesting the dishonoring of America’s past by flying the flag of our sworn enemy from World War II. Brilliant.

President Trump’s forceful, principled statement condemning the violence on Saturday did, it must be acknowledged, fall short. It might have sufficed for any other president - and, indeed, it was much stronger condemnation than was issued by President Obama after a black racist sniper killed five in Dallas last year.

Yet, infamous former KKK leader David Duke highlighted Mr. Trump’s special challenge when he tweeted to Trump that he needs to remember that it was “white Americans who put you in the presidency.”

As South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham remarked, “These groups seem to believe they have a friend in Donald Trump in the White House. I don’t know why they believe that, but they don’t see me as a friend in the Senate and I would urge the president to dissuade these groups that he’s their friend.”

The president tried on Sunday and Monday, belatedly.

Likewise, we’ve been more than a little tardy in trying to reconcile competing, often raging, beliefs and emotions concerning our Civil War legacy - which was the flashpoint of Saturday’s tragic violence. Imagery of the Confederacy understandably remains hurtful to many African-Americans, while others believe just as strongly that purging the landscape of the past is a mistake.

Can there be any accommodation here, short of steamrolling each other? A century and a half later, isn’t it time we tried?

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer asked Sunday, “How do you reconcile public safety and the First Amendment?” Maybe with civil discourse.

In the meantime, we need to do a better job of separating the combatants. Charlottesville police have come under justifiable criticism for not doing more to come between the warring factions this weekend - after knowing the incendiary mixture was coming for weeks.

We’d also suggest that perhaps it’s time for authorities in such situations to not only separate combative elements by distance, but also by time: Maybe it’s time to require that counter-protests take place at a different hour or day than competing protests.

As a legal website notes, “the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that state and federal governments may place reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of individual expression. . To pass muster under the First Amendment, TPM restrictions must be content-neutral, be narrowly drawn, serve a significant government interest, and leave open alternative channels of communication.”

We believe such cauldrons as the one in Charlottesville apply.

Online: https://chronicle.augusta.com/

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Aug. 13

The Gainesville Times says American voters cast political leaders into no-win situations:

Put yourself in the shoes of a member of Congress for a moment. Yeah, it may feel icky, but play along.

For this exercise, set aside your political leanings for a moment and imagine you’ve been elected by a constituency that supports your views by a healthy margin. The people who hired you want certain policies put into place, and if you turn your back on them, they will throw you out faster than a Julio Jones touchdown dash.

Unless you want your political career cut short, you’d best follow the voters’ will. But in a nation of widely disparate views on all aspects of government and society, you’re also going to have a good many eager to tar and feather you.

Welcome to the reality faced by Doug Collins, David Perdue, Johnny Isakson and the other 532 souls who toil in the nation’s Capitol.

It’s easy to dump on elected national leaders as do-nothing, glad-handing, self-absorbed phonies; we do it often. But when you see things from their perspective, it’s clear what a no-win situation American voters have created for them.

We saw this on display Wednesday when Collins, the 9th District House representative, held a town hall meeting at the Gainesville Public Safety Center. It’s a common habit for members of Congress to do so in the days between their August break and fall session, though many recently have curtailed the practice as debates become more heated. Though security and protocol were carefully managed, the questions were not screened or censored; give Collins credit for stepping in front of voters to answer those questions.

It wasn’t surprising the event drew many of his detractors. They have shared their displeasure outside of his Gainesville office in the past and were out in full force again.

Their key issue is defense of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, the GOP has vowed to scuttle and replace. The House plan Collins supported met with loud protests from Democrats who fear the change will leave millions without health insurance, though the Senate version went down in flames, for now. The debate continues on whether health coverage should be provided by government or by the free market.

Thus, members of Congress are getting it in both ears - from conservatives upset they can’t repeal Obamacare and from progressives who don’t want it changed. And that’s just over health care; on other issues such as tax reform, immigration and national defense, the gulf between ideologies remains difficult, if not impossible, to bridge.

So what’s a well-meaning representative to do? If they’re elected by a majority of voters to do A, B and C, yet a vocal minority wants D, E and F, whom do they strive to please?

Ultimately, they have to do whatever lets them look in the mirror without shame. Evaluate all the input, make a stand, then be prepared to defend it. Too many of our representatives are accused of putting party before people, a valid charge in some instances. But when the people themselves aren’t marching in step, where do they turn?

Unlike totalitarian countries, the U.S. Constitution and laws include protections against a pure majority rule infringing on the rights of the minority. But in practical terms, there has to be some consensus to get anything done. With common ground elusive, you can’t always blame politicians when the people they serve can’t agree which direction to go.

Our system of governance is bottom-up, not top-down; the people choose the path for those whom they elect to follow. The gridlock in Washington merely reflects what appears to be happening throughout the land.

Thankfully, Collins stayed cool, even as protesters unfurled signs and heckled him. “I do not believe evil on anyone who was here who disagrees with me and I would pray they would not believe evil on me because I disagree with them,” he said.

That was the right thing to say, the same thing Nancy Pelosi should say to anyone wearing red hats at rallies in San Francisco. They are elected to back the majority views but also to represent everyone, listen and respond respectfully and provide services to all. Yet when it’s time to take action and cast votes, reality dictates those decisions will be based on what most voters want.

Everyone has a voice and a vote and the right to use them, and informed dissent is a key foundation of a free system of government. Yet we again cite the words of Barack Obama we used last fall after his successor was elected: Elections have consequences. To truly enact change requires more than mere protests; it means organizing to win votes and elect officials with the preferred agenda. Those who fall short at the polls will remain the loyal opposition and on the outside looking in.

That’s how democracy works. Yet it would work a little better if we could strike a more cooperative tone.

Online: https://www.gainesvilletimes.com/

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Aug. 7

The Savannah Morning News on improving mental health at jails:

Getting Chatham County Jail inmates who are suffering from mental health problems into treatment programs isn’t just the humane thing to do.

It’s also the smart thing to do financially.

This isn’t just a local problem. It’s a national one. Nationally, about 25 out of every 100 inmates who enter county jails show some symptoms of behavioral health disorders, studies show. Chatham County Sheriff John Wilcher confirmed that about a fourth of his jail’s population suffers similar problems.

Chatham’s jail has a capacity of 1,524 inmates, making it one of the largest in Georgia.

Mental illness is a disease. Being ill is not a crime. But the ways that communities address this issue borders on criminal stupidity. Those who suffer from this malady should be steered toward treatment, not toward a system that means a lifetime on the wrong side of the law and ever increasing jail costs for taxpayers.

It costs Chatham County taxpayers about $70 per day to keep someone locked up at the jail. The problem is that some of these inmates who are being locked up aren’t criminals accused of committing felony -level offenses. They are people who were arrested for minor, non-violent misdemeanor-level offenses. Many have mental health issues and broke the law because they were off their medications. They are well-known to many in local law enforcement.

They call these minor offenders who are repeatedly in and out of the jail “frequent flyers.”

Unfortunately, the public sector has been doing an awful job of addressing these “frequent flyers” who are taking up costly jail space that should be reserved for dangerous, violent criminals, not those who did something foolish and illegal while they were off their meds.

Chatham County Commissioner Helen Stone, who has seen members of her own family struggle with a mental illness, is right.

Chatham County needs a better system of handling jail inmates, so that the Chatham County Jail is not treated as a dumping ground for the mentally ill.

Instead of spending $70 per day to keep someone locked up, it makes more fiscal sense to spend that money on prescription medications, or funding low-cost clinics, that will help keep someone from committing crimes and getting locked up.

Ms. Stone pointed out a very real problem that State Rep. Ron Stephens, the dean of Chatham County’s legislative delegation and a working pharmacist, must try to fix at the state level.

Unfortunately, under existing state laws, once a Medicaid patient is booked at a jail, that inmate loses his or her Medicaid coverage. Once they are released, it may take weeks for that inmate to regain Medicaid coverage and obtain the medications they need to live their lives.

While the state may have legitimate reasons to cut jail inmates from Medicaid, like reducing Medicaid costs or to encourage law-abiding behavior, there are good reasons to maintain coverage. One is that being arrested and charged with a crime is not the same as a conviction. Stripping someone of their insurance coverage because of an accusation is unjust. It also flies in the face of common sense, as many of these people who lost their Medicaid will wind up in the end with the taxpayers still footing their bills for future medication, on top of the bill for keeping them locked up.

“When they’re stripped of Medicaid, the taxpayers are paying for their psychotropic drugs and care,” Ms. Stone said. “When they get out (of jail), they get 10 days of drugs and it takes so long to get Medicaid again that they (re-offend).”

Ms. Stone wants to stop this costly and nonsensical revolving door. So does the sheriff. So should Mr. Stephens and other state lawmakers.

Todd Freesemann, the policy and accreditation administrator at the jail, said the problem of inmate who have some form of mental illness, which is a disease, seems to be getting worse.

“We continue to need a solid and comprehensive plan to solve the issue,” he said.

“Solving” the problem may be an over-reach, as this is a complex problem that presents no easy or inexpensive solutions. For example, a mental-health contractor from Vienna, Virginia, has offered to provide services at the jail for $119,685 per month.

At the same time, the contractor that already provides medical and mental-health services at the jail is proposing a new two-year contract with the county, at about $7 million for the first year and $7.1 million for the second year.

County officials are in the middle of negotiations with the contractors, but whatever the county decides, their decision should be based on getting better outcomes - more inmates who are properly diagnosed and getting the appropriate treatment to keep them from re-offending.

In other words, care for the mentally ill must become more of a key concern. Do a better job of treating the disease on the front end, so that he same sick people aren’t returned time and time again to the jail at mounting public expense. This is one “frequent flyer” program that must end.

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, another pharmacist, can help as well. He should push Congress to fully fund the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act. This measure would help fund programs here and elsewhere to improve access to mental health treatment for those in the criminal justice system. For that matter, access to needed care should be improved nationwide and across the board to include those who haven’t been arrested or accused of a crime.

Online: https://savannahnow.com/

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