- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:


Feb. 19

The (Gainesville) Times on the recent water ruling in lawsuit between Florida and Georgia:

Georgians all certainly learned a hard lesson two Sundays ago, one we won’t continue to rehash other than to repeat the lesson: Don’t sit on a lead or celebrate too early; you haven’t won until you’ve played the whole game.

That applies to sporting events, but can also be a lesson to take from last week’s water ruling in the lawsuit between Florida and Georgia.

The latest chapter of the long-running water wars ended with Ralph Lancaster, a Maine attorney appointed special master by the Supreme Court, ruling in Georgia’s favor in the suit filed by Florida on behalf of its shellfish industry in the Gulf of Mexico.

Lancaster rejected Florida’s contention that Georgia’s water use in the Chattahoochee-Flint-Apalachicola river basin was harming its shellfish industry. Though he did note Georgia’s heavy use of agricultural irrigation in his ruling, he did not single out metro Atlanta’s commercial and residential water use as a cause for Florida’s oyster problems.

“Florida has failed to show that a consumption cap will afford adequate relief,” Lancaster wrote in a 70-page ruling issued Tuesday.

Hurrah, Georgians cheered, from the governor’s office to the stakeholders on Lake Lanier who want to protect the reservoir’s lake levels from increased water releases from Buford Dam, particularly in times of drought. A ruling the other way would have forced the state to roll back water consumption to early 1990s levels, when metro Atlanta and North Georgia had a much smaller population.

It is another legal victory for Georgia, which has run up a pretty good lead against Florida in court over the water dispute. But leads can dissolve and situations can change; we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves in declaring the game won. There remain other shoes that can drop that could put Georgia back on the defensive on this issue.

What can happen? Still quite a bit:

. The Supreme Court can reject Lancaster’s recommendation. This may be unlikely, since he was appointed by the court to issue a ruling, but it remains possible. The court’s 4-4 status, with a seat still unfilled, likely isn’t a factor since the water battle isn’t really a partisan issue. Yet until the court chooses to accept the ruling, it remains just a suggestion from the Maine jurist.

. Florida could file a new lawsuit, perhaps this time aimed at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Lancaster hinted at this in his decision, saying it’s the corps, not the state, that controls water releases along the river basin at its dams.

“As a result, the corps can release (or not release) water largely as it sees fit,” he wrote, and cannot be ordered by the court to change its policy.

Florida could decide to continue trying for legal remedies, or instead take on the corps and approach the issue through legislative action. Which leads us to …

. Congress, that four-letter word times two (one for each chamber), is going to get involved at some point. The corps is currently vetting its updated water manuals, that include drinking water as a clear use for Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee. When it comes time for Congress to approve them, will there be changes?

A bill passed in December instructs the states to settle the dispute among themselves through negotiation, which through more than two decades and numerous governors of both parties has yielded no progress. Short of that, Congress may jump into the fray.

It’s worth noting the combined delegations of Florida and Alabama - the latter a friend of the court with its own water disputes with our state, and home state of new Attorney General Jeff Sessions - easily outnumber Georgia’s. How the rest of the nation’s lawmakers might come down might depend on their own intrastate disputes and where their political loyalties lie.

. The drought isn’t over. Rain was more plentiful in January, but is more than an inch below normal February levels, and Lake Lanier’s water level remains 10 feet below full pool. Another dry spring could be devastating.

Dry spells have a way of pointing out how fragile our water supply can be. The river basin serves so many interests - from drinking water and recreation needs here on Lanier, down through metro Atlanta’s water use, to South Georgia farms, Alabama power plants and navigation needs, and Florida’s oyster fishermen. All have valid claims to it, which is why it needs to be shared fairly.

When the rains come and there’s enough water for everyone, the worries ease. But put us all back in the kind of drought we experienced in the last year, and a few other times over the last decade, and the stakes get higher.

The current tally may favor Georgia in the courtroom, but that’s only one battle to be fought. There’s a lot of time left on the clock and decisions to be made before we can declare an end, peaceful or otherwise, to the water wars that seemingly will go on forever.




Feb. 20

The Dalton Daily Citizen on Georgia’s beer bill:

Imagine owning and running a legal business where the state tells you who you can and cannot sell to. Imagine running a business where your largest customers can force you not to sell to others. Imagine running a business where you can only sell tiny amounts of your product directly to your customers and to sell anything more you have to go through a middleman who takes his own cut.

You don’t have to imagine that if you run a craft brewery in Georgia.

Current state law allows breweries to host tours of their facilities, where they can hold tastings and sell very small amounts of what they brew. To sell larger amounts they have to sell to a wholesaler. We see why wholesalers like this system. It basically mandates that brewers give them business. But there are no public interest arguments for this system. It doesn’t help promote craft brewing in Georgia. It doesn’t promote public safety, and it certainly doesn’t help those who want to buy craft beer.

A bill that would amend this law is currently under consideration. It doesn’t provide for a completely free market in craft beer. For all of their talk about free markets and less regulation, the Republicans in control of the state Legislature have never been eager to reduce government when it would hurt the big businesses that line their pockets.

But the bill under consideration would allow craft breweries to sell up to a case of their product to each customer on premises.

That’s a very tiny step, but at least it’s a step. We hope the members of the Legislature approve this bill, and we urge our local delegation to stand behind it.




Feb. 20

The (Macon) Telegraph on drivers and technology:

With all our technological advancements in the vehicle arena, more people are dying in crashes than at almost anytime in history according to the National Safety Council. The NSC estimates that 40,200 people died in automobile accidents in 2016, up 6 percent over 2015. We haven’t seen this level of vehicle death in a decade. Georgia has seen a 34 percent increase in vehicle deaths from 2014 to 2016 according to the NSC. Georgia had the fifth highest percentage increase in the nation. And the death toll comes in third behind Texas and California.

One of the reasons cited is distracted driving. Many drivers hold their smartphones in higher regard than Gollum held his “precious” ring, constantly staring at its shimmering screen or picking it up whenever it beckons - even while steering a vehicle weighing several thousand pounds. The other reasons for a higher death toll have nothing to do with technology, but human behavior. Speed and intoxication, with speed being the most contributing factor in highway fatalities even as actual crashes decrease in some states.

But can technology also act as savior? The answer is a qualified, “maybe.” Technology exists and is on the market right now, that can disable cellphone use, internet access, even game playing while in a moving vehicle but still allow the ability to make 911 calls. Other features include reports of excessive braking, cornering and speed. These type apps are usually employed by parents. Nothing is fool proof, and it still needs some degree of human cooperation. And while young adults exhibit risky behavior, they are not the only ones speeding or running red lights, or reading and answering texts while driving.

While Georgia law bans all cellphone use for drivers under age 18 and texting for everyone, all we have to do is look around to see how well that’s working. According to the National Occupant Protection Use Survey, at any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cellphones or manipulating electronic devices while driving.

Car manufacturers are developing different technologies, from heads up displays to text messages read aloud over the vehicle’s speaker system and voice-activated replies. Navigation units are becoming less expensive and more common in lower-priced vehicles with larger, clearer displays. And there has been an effort to have the government require phone makers or auto manufacturers build into their products systems that would automatically disable a cellphone’s ability to text or connect to the internet.

The other issues of speed and intoxicated driving are more vexing. Difficult to put speed governors on every vehicle and we have yet to convince those who have a penchant for drinking and driving that their sickness could get them and whoever they hit, killed. Maybe one day technology will be able to identify drunk drivers, but that day hasn’t arrived yet.

But there is something else out there, that, over time, might do the trick: Education. Locally, the Kiwanis Club has been staging its Teen Driving Roadeo with the cooperation of several participants from trucking companies to law enforcement. Having an experienced trucker demonstrate to teens what he can and cannot see in his mirrors is a lesson well learned. They also see what a rollover looks and why it’s important to wear seat belts. The Sheriff’s Office is in full force showing teens, using special goggles, what it feels like to drive impaired. AT&T;, using virtual reality technology, has given teens demonstrations that should have scared the bejesus out of them about what could happen if they take their eyes off the road to answer a text message. It’s a great event that could save lives and it’s all hands on experience teens can put into practice, the Kiwanians even provide lunch. The next Teen Driving Roadeo is Saturday, September 30.



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