ATLANTA – An entire cadet class with the Georgia State Patrol has been fired after a cheating scandal involving an online test required to use the agency’s radar speed detectors.
All 30 members of the 106th GSP Trooper
School manipulated the test with outside help from a civilian and later
confessed to cheating, Georgia Public Safety Commissioner Mark McDonough said
Wednesday during a news conference at the agency’s Atlanta headquarters.
The cadets managed to write at least 133 traffic citations since graduating in August before being suspended amid the investigation, McDonough said.
Local judges are being notified about those traffic citations, he added.
Although the agency has more than 800
troopers, McDonough said removing the fired troopers could impact parts of the
state where traffic enforcement is already sparse.
The agency has scrapped the online course
and instituted in-person classes only for radar instruction, McDonough said. He
indicated supervisors and past classes could face scrutiny in an audit of the
training school that the agency plans to conduct.
“It goes to the core of what we do,” McDonough said Wednesday. “Enforcing the speed limit is one of the core functions of what the patrolman has always done.”
The trainee troopers banded together to
help each other pass the test after two of their classmates failed in May,
according to an investigation report GSP released Wednesday. Several circulated
test questions in their dorm rooms at the training facility in Forsyth,
searched the answers on Google and communicated with each other via online
They also coordinated on the app Snapchat to “get their stories straight” once the internal investigation started, McDonough said.
Many of the fired cadets said they
cheated because they feared failing the difficult test and adopted an “I did
what I had to do” attitude, McDonough said. The students who failed previously
were among the smarter members of the class, he said. That prompted concerns
everyone could fail.
But McDonough disputed the rigor of the test, saying it aims to teach troopers the science behind how radar works so they can bring the needed background to help prove court cases.
“It was something that you had to pay attention, but it wasn’t rocket science,” he said.
McDonough said he did not know how long
trooper trainees in Georgia have been taking the radar exam online.
ATLANTA – Georgia’s wild year of politics just got wilder.
After much speculation, U.S. Rep. Doug
Collins announced Wednesday morning that he will challenge appointed U.S. Sen.
Kelly Loeffler to fill the remainder of former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s term.
Collins’ decision risks splitting
Republican support in Georgia at a time when Democratic leaders see their
prospects growing to flip seats in Congress and the state legislature.
The campaign comes as Republican U.S. Sen.
David Perdue of Georgia also seeks to keep his seat. He has drawn three
Along with Collins and Loeffler, the race
for Isakson’s old Senate seat includes Democratic candidate Matt Lieberman, the
son of former U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.
The move also opens the race for a third
congressional seat in Georgia covering Collins’ Gainesville-based district,
following the decisions of U.S. Reps. Tom Graves and Rob Woodall – also
Republicans – not to seek re-election.
A Baptist pastor and U.S. Air Force
Reserve chaplain, Collins hails from a staunchly conservative part of the state
and was President Donald Trump’s pick to succeed Isakson. His tirades against
congressional Democrats in defending the president against charges of Russian
collaboration and impeachment over Ukraine have raised his national profile
over the past year.
“We’re getting ready for a good time down
here to keep defending this president, keep working for the people of Georgia,”
Collins said in announcing his candidacy Wednesday morning on the “Fox and
Friends” television program.
Loeffler, an Atlanta businesswoman, was chosen by Gov. Brian Kemp last month to finish Isakson’s term. Isakson stepped down at year’s end due to health complications from Parkinson’s disease.
Loeffler has the governor’s strong
support, as well as backing from other powerful and well-financed groups like
the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
“The shortsightedness of this decision is
stunning,” said NRSC Executive Director Kevin McLaughlin. “Doug Collins’
selfishness will hurt David Perdue, Kelly Loeffler and President Trump.”
The wife of a billionaire financier and
herself formerly head of a bitcoin company, Loeffler has millions of dollars at
her disposal to wage a tough campaign. She has already begun pouring money into
campaign ads in recent weeks.
Collins dismissed questions that his
candidacy could split the Republican base or fall flat in the face of
Loeffler’s financial might.
“We just need to have a process that lets
people decide, lets them choose for themselves how they want to see this
vision,” Collins said on “Fox and Friends” Wednesday.
Collins’ entry in the race also puts him
and powerful supporters like Georgia House Speaker David Ralston on a collision
course with Kemp. Ralston threw his political weight behind Collins in the
House on Tuesday, calling him a steadfast friend.
“He has stood by me when few would,” said
Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “I don’t forget things like that.”
Meanwhile, Kemp rallied support for his
pick in Loeffler in an emailed statement Tuesday, touting her anti-abortion
stance and support for Trump’s agenda.
“Kelly is a life-long Republican who
shares our conservative values and vision for a safer, stronger Georgia,” the
Circling the political fray is House Bill
757, a measure that could pave an easier path for Collins to win the race
Currently, special elections in Georgia
are decided by free-for-all “jungle” primaries in which all candidates –
Democratic and Republican alike – compete on the same ballot. The House measure
would restore the traditional party primaries in May, followed by a November
general election between the primary winners.
If passed, the special-election bill
moving through the state legislature would greatly reduce chances for a runoff
in a jungle primary, which likely would result in votes being split between
several strong candidates all competing at once. The top candidate in the
free-for-all format would need more than 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff with
the second-highest vote getter.
The bill looks headed soon for a vote on
the House floor. Kemp has already said he will veto it.
ATLANTA – Legislation
supporters say updates a 1980s state law aimed at protecting farmers from
nuisance lawsuits is running into opposition from environmental groups.
Right to Farm Act of 2020, now before the state Senate, would make it more
difficult for property owners living in areas zoned for agriculture to sue
nearby agricultural operations such as poultry houses or cattle ranches for
offensive smells or runoff from sludge lagoons.
In order to
sue, property owners would have to be located within five miles of the source
of the alleged nuisance. The bill also would require lawsuits to be brought
within two years after a nuisance occurs, compared to four years in the current
told members of the Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Tuesday farmers
need more protection against nuisance lawsuits as Georgia’s growing population
brings more people who don’t farm for a living into closer proximity to agricultural
often comes with smells, sights, and dust,” said Will Bentley, president of the
Georgia Agribusiness Council. “We have to decide whether to protect the state’s
opponents said the current Right to Farm Act has worked in the more than 30
years it’s been on the books.
trying to fix a problem that I don’t think really exists,” said Damon Mullis,
executive director of the Savannah-based environmental group Ogeechee
Karinshak, D-Duluth, said the proposed changes to the law would make existing
owners of farm properties more vulnerable to large agricultural polluters that
move into their neighborhoods. She questioned the need to change the law when
there’s no data showing whether there has been an outbreak of nuisance lawsuits
Sullivan, who owns four poultry houses in Gordon County, told the committee he
has fallen victim to nuisance suits. He said he has spent thousands of dollars
defending himself from several suits filed by non-farming neighbors after he
began raising chickens in 2015.
getting hard for us to keep going,” Sullivan said.
Harper, R-Ocilla, said farmers in other states are being hit with lawsuits, and
lawmakers have responded with legislation giving farmers greater legal
lawsuit is successful [in Georgia], it would open up the floodgates for a
multitude of lawsuits,” he said.
committee could vote on the bill as early as next week.
ATLANTA – Youth offenders in Georgia would need to be at least 18-years old to be tried in adult court for all except the most serious violent crimes under a bill filed in the 2020 legislative session.
Georgia is one of three states that try 17-year-olds as adults for misdemeanors charges in criminal court. The minimum age would be raised to 18 years under House Bill 440, sponsored by Rep. Mandi Ballinger, D-Canton.
Supporters say 17-year-old offenders should not be jailed with
violent adults, both for their own physical safety and to remove them from
constant contact with criminal behavior. Skeptics worry the change could let more
crime-prone juveniles go free.
Teenagers would still be tried as adults for violent crimes
like murder and rape under the bill.
Most 17-year-olds in Georgia are arrested for theft, drug, assault and disorderly-conduct crimes, said Joshua Rovner, a senior advocacy associate with the nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project. Keeping them out of the adult justice system would help reduce the chances they commit more crimes as an adult.
“We have the opportunity to shape their futures…by providing
them with the services they need even when they mess up,” Rovner said at a House
Juvenile Justice Committee meeting Tuesday.
The number of teenagers arrested in Georgia has fallen
sharply over the past decade, Rovner said. He presented figures showing roughly
30% of the the total 24,037 juveniles arrested in Georgia in 2017 were aged 17.
Despite the decline, some lawmakers want a deeper dive on
how much it would cost juvenile courts and detention centers to take on 17-year-olds
before moving forward on the bill.
“I think there’s universal agreement that this is the right
thing to do,” said Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock. “We just need to look at it
more so we don’t have fiscal impacts that we didn’t consider.”
The bill stalled in last year’s legislative session. Ballinger chairs the House Juvenile Justice Committee where the bill needs approval to reach the full House.
This story has been updated to clarify information presented by Joshua Rovner,
ATLANTA – A bill restricting student dual enrollment in high school and college classes in Georgia cleared the Senate floor Tuesday.
Sponsored by state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, House Bill 444 would limit dual enrollment to 30 hours per eligible student for college or technical college courses the state-run student-finance agency funds. Beyond that, students would pay for classes out of their own pockets.
“We see how much this program has grown with no guardrails
in place, with no end in sight,” said Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, one
of Kemp’s floor leaders in the Senate.
But opponents argued the changes would be too restrictive,
causing students to start college with fewer class credits and more debt.
“The bottom line is students who are seeking higher
education are going to end up with more debt,” said Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta.
The bill passed out of the Senate by a 34-18 vote.
Costs for the program allowing high-school students to take
post-secondary classes swelled from around $23 million when the program was
launched in 2015 to around $140 million in 2018. The bill would cap enrollment
enough to keep the program within its roughly $100 million budget for this
year, officials say.
The proposal would nix free college-level classes for
freshman high schoolers and limit 10th graders to courses at technical schools
unless they qualify for the state’s Zell Miller scholarship, which requires
students to maintain a 3.7 grade point average or better.
Only upper-class students in the 11th and 12th grades could
take classes at colleges and universities in Georgia. Currently enrolled
students would not be affected if the bill is signed into law.
The legislation would also trim some course offerings to
keep the focus more on helping students gain technical certificates for future
jobs. Supporting lawmakers have pointed out the program’s tax-funded offerings
have evolved beyond their original intent to include exercise classes like
Because of changes the Senate Higher Education Committee
made to the bill, it now must return to the House before gaining final passage.