- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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April 30

The Gainesville Times on myths about immigration:

Recently, the Gainesville Campus of the University of North Georgia was the site of a community forum offered by the Latino Student Association to discuss rights students and others have when confronted by law enforcement. Gwinnett County state Rep. Brenda Lopez, an attorney specializing in immigration, discussed legal options people have in such cases.

Some may question if it’s wise to advise people how to skirt the law, even if the goal was merely to inform them of their legal rights. Beyond that, it illustrates the fear running through the Latino community over changes in immigration policy, perceived or otherwise. Though the Obama administration deported more immigrants than any other, a harsher tone from the current White House has many worried over what comes next.

On many topics championed by politicians, it’s important to separate facts from rhetoric created to fit a certain narrative and point of view. On illegal immigration, the goal seems to be to stir sentiment in favor of stricter law enforcement.

There’s no real need to fan those flames; until leaders in Washington can somehow agree on a comprehensive plan to deal with the 11 million or more undocumented foreigners in the U.S. - don’t hold your breath - the laws in place should be enforced.

Those who are found to be in the country illegally can face deportation when apprehended for any reason, be it a serious crime or a burned-out tail light. The law is the law, and until it’s changed, needs to be applied fairly. But that doesn’t mean stoking fears with false ideas is needed to make that case.

Take first the debate over so-called sanctuary cities or campuses, based on the idea undocumented immigrants can find haven in friendly locales that protect them from deportation. In reality, there is no such place; in no city, county, state or college campus in America is anyone exempt from the law. Federal agents can knock on any door, at any time, and arrest someone suspected of crimes, which includes being in the country illegally, or review the status of anyone in custody.

The “sanctuary cities” tag merely describes local governments and law agencies that choose not to cooperate or provide resources to federal authorities in applying immigration law. Many simply don’t want the extra burden, or worry such compliance can spark distrust within the minority community. Even then, they are limited in what they can avoid doing. For instance, when federal arrest warrants are issued, officers are obligated to serve them. And under the Secure Communities program, arrest databases are automatically shared with federal agencies.

The Trump administration is appealing a California court’s ban on its attempt to withhold federal funds to governments that refuse to cooperate with immigration enforcement. What’s interesting is that the administration and the court are suddenly on opposite sides of an argument long favored by constitutional conservatives: the notion of states’ rights, embodied in the 10th Amendment. Also at issue is whether the executive branch can force local law authorities to cooperate with the feds by threatening to withhold money already allocated by Congress.

States are making their own political statements. California lawmakers are considering a law to prohibit local police in any jurisdiction from becoming involved in federal immigration cases, while Texas weighs a plan that would force local agencies to assist immigration officials.

The degree of cooperation federal agencies can expect from local law enforcement is a worthy debate, and ideally should be applied consistently from one place to another. No one is above or outside the law, and all public safety agencies need to respect that premise. Nevertheless, the idea any locale is a true “sanctuary” free from legal consequences remains a misnomer.

A similar debate looms over the idea college campuses can serve as such “sanctuaries,” based on the same misconception. Colleges and universities aren’t city-states exempt from federal, state or local laws. Gov. Nathan Deal recently signed a law to pull state funding for scholarships and research from any private colleges in Georgia that don’t cooperate with immigration authorities. No colleges have yet done so, and thus it’s mostly symbolic and preventive.

And note President Donald Trump recently said his administration won’t target “dreamers,” children of undocumented foreigners brought to the U.S. at a young age recently protected by the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program. That would seem to cover many students who lack legal documentation.

And one more mirage: the Homeland Security director has announced plans for a Victims of Immigrant Crime Engagement office to inform victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants of their status and proceedings. Why is this necessary? Data show immigrants, legal and otherwise, are less prone to commit crimes against others than the native-born population, so it’s hardly a widespread problem. Even then, victims of all crimes deserve the same treatment, as do suspected criminals, domestic or imported. This seems another way to stir up the notion that a large number of immigrants are dangerous criminals, which just isn’t so.

Yes, there have been high-profile crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. The best way to prevent such is to send leaders to Washington to craft an immigration policy that protects the borders, registers migrant workers who seek to enter and weeds out violent criminals before they take root in the U.S. That should have happened decades ago. Closing the barn door now with look-see measures is pointless.

These myths pumped up for political purposes don’t advance what should be a serious discussion on immigration that addresses its legal, economic and humane aspects. They just throw more false narratives - a.k.a., “fake news” - into the mix and muddy the waters even further.

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

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April 30

The Newnan Times-Herald on a recent production bill signed by Gov. Nathan Deal:

In the six weeks following the end of each year’s legislative session, governors sort through the bills that passed to decide which to sign and which to veto. One of this year’s batch that Gov. Nathan Deal has just signed will extend tax credits to the companies that do what is called “post production” work on motion pictures.

This is a sound decision by the governor of the third-busiest movie-production state. Thanks to tax credits enacted years ago, the motion picture industry is responsible for an estimated 55,000 Georgia jobs and a $7 billion annual economic impact. These are jobs and economics that we see locally.

The goal of House Bill 199 is to entice the movie companies to do all of their production work here, not just the filming. That would provide jobs for editors, foley artists and the creators of special effects, and it would further anchor the industry to the state, immunizing us against other states dangling more attractive filming incentives someday.

Deal has invested the state’s resources in bolstering the industry with the creation of the Georgia Film Academy that trains technicians needed during filming. And the state’s colleges are poised to educate the post-production workers as well.

For instance, Wednesday, top officials of the University of West Georgia briefed community leaders at the Newnan campus about an innovative approach to quickly tailor a degree to meet the needs of local businesses. That could be just the ticket for filling post-production jobs with UWG-Newnan graduates.

Deal’s decision to sign HB 199 can be a shot in the arm for the Coweta County economy if local entrepreneurs and industry recruiters seize it. Now that the governor has done his part, we’re confident the others will do theirs.

Online: https://times-herald.com/

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April 30

The Savannah Morning News on the closure of Jenkins Medical Center in Millen:

The death certificates for Jenkins Medical Center in Millen and Georgia’s six other now- moribund rural hospitals would list lots of contributing factors, chief among them a population too small to support the costs of running an all-purpose facility. Rural populations are declining, while the cost of medical care rises. Congress has cut Medicaid and Medicare benefits, and that’s felt at every hospital, as they depend on government reimbursements.

But somewhere on the list of contributing causes should appear this word: partisanship. Here, as in 18 other states controlled by Republicans, the decision to turn down Medicaid expansion as a protest against Obamacare helped seal the fates of vulnerable hospitals. Maps marking hospital closings nationwide show the states that turned down Medicaid expansion have disproportionate numbers of shuttered hospitals.

No question more government reimbursement for care that’s otherwise not covered would have helped Jenkins’s financial picture. So it is, too, in Savannah, where Memorial University Health Center would have seen less red ink in its budget.

Under the Affordable Care Act, states that agreed to raise the income ceiling for Medicaid eligibility covered millions more people than states that did not. This was a huge help to hospitals, as they got paid for caring for more people with little income, people not likely to be able to pay for their own care. If they’d been poorer, they could have qualified for Medicaid under the old rules. With a little more income, they would have qualified for subsidies under the ACA’s health care marketplace. The ACA planned to cover the gap by offering Medicaid expansion for those patients caught in the middle. But when the U.S. Supreme Court said that states could turn down the offer, most Republican-led states said thanks, but no thanks.

If Georgia officials had said yes, an estimated 650,000 more people would have qualified for Medicaid, people who now have no health care coverage, many of them in low-wage, no-benefit jobs such as waitressing. As for paying for Medicaid for so many more people, the ACA requires the federal government to cover the entire cost from 2010 through last year in states that accept the expansion. Those states start kicking in to help this year at 5 percent, but will never pay more than 10 percent under the law, and that won’t happen until 2020.

The No. 1 reason given for turning down that substantial federal money is the concern that, eventually, states won’t be able to afford even that ten percent. To be sure, one of the failures of the ACA is that it’s done little to slow the rise of health care costs. It is also true that Obamacare, the law Republicans love to hate, was politically polarizing from the very start, with Republicans slamming it at every opportunity and Democrats praising it. Each can point to solid, policy reasons for their positions, which we won’t argue here.

In Georgia, as in other no-thanks states, lawmakers and hospital experts are trying to hammer together some other way to handle that coverage gap without linking it to the O-word. If they meet certain criteria, they can qualify for more federal help under Social Security.

In the years since the ACA’s enactment, some states that signed on for the Medicaid expansion have complained that it will cost more than they expected. But states that said no are seeing hospitals shutting down, especially in rural areas, at greater rates.

These are hospitals with other problems, too, that might have ultimately sunk them. The press release announcing the closure of the 25-bed Millen facility first listed the need for costly infrastructure upgrades. The second reason given: “cuts in Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements.” The third and final reason given: “a decrease in patient activity to non-sustainable levels.”

“They didn’t have the population or the reimbursement to carry it,” Jimmy Lewis, CEO of Hometown Health, an organization of rural Georgia hospitals, told Georgia Health News about the closing of the Millen hospital.

Owned by Savannah-based Optim Health Systems, the Jenkins Medical Center will merge with a hospital 20 miles away, Optim Medical Center-Screven. The change will cost 55 people their full-time or part-time jobs. And when a hospital closes, there’s a ripple effect on an already-fragile, rural economy.

Jenkins Medical Center is the seventh rural hospital in Georgia to shut down since early 2013, and more are barely hanging on. As Republicans try to design a health care law to replace Obamacare, they need to remember that their rural constituents need their help.

Online: https://savannahnow.com/

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