- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Jan. 23

Valdosta Daily Times on public participation in government:

Unless there is some hot button or a zoning issue on the table, the number of people attending city council and county commission meetings is, to stay the least, underwhelming.



It seems like people want to complain about what government does or does not do, but they do not regularly attend meetings and do not sign up for public commenting at those meetings. What local government does is your business.

We encourage our readers to attend public meetings. The state of Georgia requires that the public’s business be done in public. That business, however, is not really being deliberated in public, if the public does not show up at meetings.

Every government meeting, except for limited executive sessions, must be held out in the open. Too many times, reporters show up to cover city council, county commission, planning commission, board of education, tourism authority, development authority and hospital authority meetings only to look around and see few residents in attendance.

There are a core group of people who do attend public meetings and they are to be commended for their role in helping to hold local government accountable, but they should not be alone.

Government, at all levels, belongs to the governed and not the governing. We are to be self-governed. It is a principle that has defined America since its inception.

Theodore Roosevelt was credited with saying, “The government is us; we are the government, you and I.”

We elected the men and women in office to represent our interests, not to think for us and not to just take care of everything for us.

The general public should be more involved in government, especially at the local level where the actions of government impact our daily lives the most. Elected officials only know what we think when we tell them.

And from a practical standpoint, it is more difficult for elected officials to raise our taxes, expand regulations or award questionable contracts when they have to look people in the eye.

When few people show up at city council, county commission, board of education or hospital authority meetings, those who have been elected or appointed to office may have the mistaken idea that no one cares what they are doing, or not doing.

Newspapers fulfill their role as the Fourth Estate of government and hold officials accountable, but the ultimate accountability of local government is to the general public.

The Valdosta Daily Times encourages its readers to go beyond writing letters of support, calling hotlines and commenting on social media threads. Attend the open public meetings, as filling the halls of government always sends a strong message to the people we have elected and who are appointed to head up boards, commissions and authorities.

Remember, it is your government and it is your business elected officials are conducting each time they meet.

Online: http://www.valdostadailytimes.com

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Jan. 23

Columbus Ledger-Enquirer on Georgia’s touch-screen voting system:

“We don’t know what’s happening in our elections because we can’t audit them. We need a complete overhaul of our system . This is an urgent situation.”

- Sara Henderson, executive director, Common Cause Georgia

There’s no evidence that Georgia’s touch-screen voting machines have ever been hacked before or during any election over the 16 years they have been in use.

But it’s more than possible there wouldn’t be any evidence even if they had. Because, as reported by Mark Niesse of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the machines do not make hard-copy records to verify vote totals.

Lawmakers and open-government advocacy organizations were already talking about the potential for problems even before the situation surfaced last year at Kennesaw State University’s Center for Elections Systems, where a security hole exposed the personal data of millions of Georgia voters - and went unrepaired for six months. Voter confidence didn’t exactly get a boost when the server’s data was later erased by KSU technicians.

Rep. Scot Turner, R-Holly Springs, has introduced a bill calling for the state to replace the touch-screen machines with paper ballots, which according to the Niesse story are used by about 70 percent of American voters.

The transition wouldn’t, needless to say, be cheap. Turner estimates the cost to the state at $25-35 million, mostly for the scanning technology to read the ballots.

“The most secure system in the world for conducting elections is pen or pencil and a piece of paper,” Turner told the AJC. “It’s the same type of Scantron technology we’ve been using since we were kids filling out standardized tests.”

It’s not a partisan issue: One of Turner’s co-sponsors is Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, and the consensus on both sides of the aisle is that Georgia’s voting system is obsolete and vulnerable.

“The system we have right now is effectively a computer system from 2002,” Holcomb said. “How many of us are using phones from 2002? How many of us are using laptops from 2002? Not many people.”

Even the company that manufactured the computer technology for the touch screens doesn’t vouch for it: Microsoft no longer supports the Windows 2000 OS on which the voting system is based.

And last summer in Las Vegas - about the same time concern over the situation with the KSU server was coming to a head - a DefCon computer hacking conference “exposed security vulnerabilities in the type of voting machines used in Georgia that could allow them to be compromised,” the AJC reported, adding that Virginia election officials scrapped the touch-screen system soon thereafter.

Whether (and when) Georgia lawmakers approve the needed funding and start the transition process will become clearer as the legislative session moves along; Turner would like to see a new paper-based system in place in time for the 2020 elections.

The integrity of the voting process, and public faith in that integrity, is a foundational American value. This isn’t something that should be kicked down the road.

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

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Jan. 20

The Times Free Press of Chattanooga on recreational marijuana in Georgia and Tennessee:

Cue the Cheech and Chong videos and the Bob Marley music. Cannabis is all the talk in Tennessee and Georgia legislative circles.

OK, neither state is about to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, which currently is approved only in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and Oregon. But both Southern state governments will discuss the further use of medical marijuana this year.

It is reasonable to have those discussions, to determine how tightly its use can be controlled, to see what has been learned since cannabis oil was approved for use in Tennessee clinical studies in 2014 and to see if enough study has been done to expand on Georgia’s 2015 limited approval of cannabis oil.

Over the last half dozen years, since talk first surfaced in both legislatures about limited use of medical marijuana, opioid abuse has expanded exponentially. Some experts believe - and polls show respondents think - that the use of medical marijuana for chronic pain will decrease the use and abuse of opioids.

However, only last August did the National Institutes of Health award researchers a five-year, $3.8 million grant for what was described as “the first long-term study to test whether medical marijuana reduces opioid use among adults with chronic pain, including those with HIV.” In other words, the results of a federal government-backed study on the subject still are probably five years away.

In Tennessee, the recently introduced Medical Cannabis Only Act of 2018 would allow the prescription of cannabis oil to patients with a dozen types of health conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDs and multiple sclerosis.

It would be derived from specially cultivated marijuana.

The legislation was introduced by Nashville physician Sen. Steve Dickerson and Rep. Jeremy Faison of Cosby, both Republicans. However, legislative leaders Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Senate speaker, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bo Watson of Chattanooga, a physical therapist, have concerns.

McNally said not enough research is available, and Watson said opening the door to cannabis is like the door that was opened to opioids. Now, it cannot be closed.

In Georgia, legislation introduced in the General Assembly would allow up to 10 businesses statewide to distribute medical marijuana oil to registered patients, and up to two businesses would be licensed to cultivate, harvest and produce medical marijuana oil.

Currently in the Peach State, registered patients can possess the cannabis oil, but it is illegal for anyone to buy it or distribute it. Somehow, the patients have to get it from out of state, but federal law prevents the transport of any form of the drug between states. Yes, that is as odd as it sounds.

Yet, Georgia law enforcement agencies oppose expanding the law, believing - like Watson - a crack in the door eventually will force it open to recreational use.

We said in 2015 that we felt a tightly regulated medical marijuana law - essentially one that allows only cannabis oil - was worth passing for the good it might do some people with some of the most egregious medical situations.

At the time, the Epilepsy Foundation of East Tennessee introduced us to a 5-year-old Ooltewah resident who had epilepsy as the result of an accident and suffered nine to 12 seizures a day. At the time, she had to take daily medications, couldn’t play sports or ride a bike. Though often lethargic, she was forced to wear a helmet when she was alert and active and required the constant companionship of a seizure dog.

Doctors at the time thought she “would be a good candidate” for cannabis oil because it offered the potential to get her off some of her meds. Another woman we met grew her own marijuana, reduced it to oil and treated her Crohn’s disease with it. Without it, she said, she couldn’t enjoy her children and do her job.

“None of these people want to get high,” Dr. Elizabeth LaRoche, a Tennessee physician, said at the time. “They just want to be functional.”

Therein lies the rub. It seems cruel to deny patients with devastating diseases - some 65,000 potential users, according to bill sponsors - the possibility of some relief from their pain.

In the ensuing months, we hope Tennessee legislators - who no doubt have heard similar stories to those we have - consider the Medical Cannabis Only Act of 2018, and perhaps other measures, that might provide relief. If they aren’t willing to go as far as passing a bill, maybe they could consider approval of some pilot programs.

To date, 30 states have passed some type of medical marijuana law. Surely, many of those states have a variety of best practices the Volunteer State could study and consider. Georgia would be smart to do the same with states that have approved medical marijuana but also the regulated cultivation, production and distribution of it.

The public approval of medical marijuana is not likely to decline anytime soon. That, at least, should signal its use is worthy of informed consideration.

Online: http://www.timesfreepress.com

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