Georgia House Democratic lawmakers pressed Gov. Brian Kemp Wednesday to clear the state’s backlog of unprocessed unemployment claims and reimpose a 60-day halt to evictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter to the governor, members of the Georgia House Democratic Caucus highlighted frequent complaints from constituents that their unemployment claims have not been processed after long delays while tens of thousands of Georgians face “an imminent eviction crisis.”
Kemp has steadily allowed businesses, schools and other institutions in Georgia to reopen since late April with certain safety measures in place, an approach the House Democrats’ letter faults as too hands-off to address economic insecurity issues across the state.
“The sober reality is that there is no market-based or voluntary response that will adequately stem the tide of economic loss, displacement and profound suffering resulting from the pandemic,” the letter says.
The letter urges Kemp to authorize a one-time preliminary grant of all unemployment claims that have been pending for 30 days or more, boost staffing at the state Department of Labor to process the claims backlog faster and implement a review period for claims after approval.
It also recommends Kemp immediately renew a statewide 60-day pause on evictions after a previous moratorium expired in July, and to use emergency aid and grant funds to increase housing and rental assistance for Georgians struggling to make monthly payments.
“Particularly now that federal … unemployment payments have expired, thousands of Georgians are facing severe and immediate economic instability,” the letter says. “Current trends in unemployment and eviction are an immediate crisis of humanity that will have ripple effects well into Georgia’s future.”
Kemp has frequently sought to cast the coronavirus pandemic as both a major public-health and economic crisis, advancing policies aimed at allowing businesses to recover as much as possible back to normal while imposing social distancing and cleanliness requirements to curb the virus’ spread.
He has faced months of criticism for not issuing a statewide mask mandate per recommendations from health experts and recent White House coronavirus task force reports. The letter from Democratic lawmakers also called on him to require masks.
On Tuesday, Kemp called on Georgians to wash hands, keep distance, follow sanitization precautions and voluntarily wear masks.
“Do it for your family and friends, do it for your faith community, or do it for college football,” Kemp said. “No matter your reason, hunker down, stay focused and do four things for fall.”
A longtime Georgia educator has been appointed to work with local school districts on public-health issues as students resume in-person and online classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Garry McGiboney, a certified psychologist with decades of experience in public education, will serve as the new public-health liaison at the state Department of Education.
He will act as a point of contact for local districts to address public-health issues and keep communication flowing between districts and state school officials, the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.
McGiboney, who previously served as state deputy superintendent for school climate and safety, looks to fill a key advisory position as Georgia’s roughly 2,300 schools weigh how to create safe learning environments for students and teachers during the pandemic.
He is poised to work with local districts and health officials on boosting COVID-19 tests, contact tracing, data collection and reporting. He will also coordinate with emergency management officials on distributing safety equipment and supplies to schools.
“This position will ensure they have strong lines of communication to state and local public health officials, and the best possible guidance and support to safeguard the health of students and staff,” said State School Superintendent Richard Woods.
Many Georgia students began returning to in-person classes this month for the 2020-21 school year, following statewide school closures in March that prompted students to complete spring-semester courses online.
As the fall semester kicks off, state officials have left it to local school districts whether to hold classes in person or start off with virtual learning. Some schools recently paused in-person classes after outbreaks of COVID-19 positive cases.
McGiboney, who has authored several books and scholarly articles on public education, previously oversaw efforts to create safe and comfortable learning environments in Georgia schools. He earned doctorate degrees in psychology and educational administration from Georgia State University.
How to rebuild trust in Georgia communities between police officers and local residents was a focus of talks Tuesday between representatives from metro Atlanta law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the state chapter of the NAACP.
Spearheaded by U.S. Attorney BJay Pak of the Northern District of Georgia, the virtual town hall-style talk touched on how officer-involved shootings are investigated, what can be done to improve officer training and the impact of calls for reduced police funding in local communities across the country.
“We have to acknowledge that right now we’re hurting,” Pak said. “We have to show some empathy and some patience, condemn the violence and talk to each other to find a common solution that all of us can agree with and buy into.”
The talk was held amid a backdrop of continuing protests against police brutality and racial injustice sparked by the officer-caused killing of George Floyd in Minnesota in late May and the local arrests of two men involved in the February shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery near Brunswick.
Protesters have also decried the fatal shooting of Rayshard Brooks by an Atlanta police officer in June shortly after nationwide protests gained steam. His killing prompted the resignation of Atlanta’s police chief at the time.
And new protests broke out in Kenosha, Wis., Sunday night after 29-year-old Jacob Blake was shot in the back by police while trying to get into his SUV as his three children inside the vehicle looked on.
Several communities nationwide have pressed for reducing funds for local police departments in recent months, marking a policy that has drawn sharp denouncement from many politicians including President Donald Trump.
James Woodall, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Georgia chapter, said the conversation around police funding requires more nuance than a wholesale call for fewer law enforcement dollars.
He said funding should be driven by local decisions based on the needs of individual communities, not by political talking points on either side of the partisan divide.
“We have to be having these conversations about what’s happening on the ground and not listen to the national voices and the national movements that are trying to underwrite what’s actually happening at the grassroots level,” Woodall said.
Chief Rodney Bryant, who now heads the Atlanta Police Department in an interim capacity, said he disagrees with efforts to reduce police funding given the increased resources departments like his will need to improve training. But he agreed funding decisions should be kept strictly at the local level.
“I think it’s important to recognize that it should lie with the community itself to make that determination,” Bryant said.
Bryant added he aims to have Atlanta officers evaluated more regularly to identify potential training shortcomings and to incorporate peer intervention in training programs so that it is ingrained in officers to report misconduct from their colleagues, rather than turn a blind eye for fear of being ostracized.
“You will have to do it,” Bryant said of peer intervention. “And if you don’t, you will be held accountable.”
Bryant also backed efforts by state lawmakers to evaluate whether Georgia’s citizen’s arrest law should be changed, calling it “a very dangerous situation for both parties, especially when it goes wrong.”
Chief James Conroy, who heads up the Roswell Police Department, echoed remarks from others during Tuesday’s talk that local jurisdictions need more recourse to assist persons with mental health issues via professional services, rather than by calling police.
To that end, Conroy also highlighted the importance for citizens to involve themselves more in community engagement in order to better partner with law enforcement agencies and identify specific, local points of improvement for police to make.
“Relationships are the key to successful and effective law enforcement,” Conroy said. “If we don’t have strong relationships with our community built on trust and transparency, we’re going to fail.”
Cobb County District Attorney Joyette Holmes, whose office is prosecuting the two men arrested in the Arbery fatal shooting, noted communication between law enforcement and many different community groups is critical to build trust between officers and residents.
“It really takes all of us recognizing what our blind spots are,” Holmes said.
ATLANTA – Georgia will receive nearly $3.3 million from a multi-state settlement with Honda Motor Co. over allegations the carmaker concealed safety issues stemming from defective front airbags, Attorney General Chris Carr announced Tuesday.
The airbag systems were designed and manufactured by Takata Corp., a long-time Honda supplier, and were first installed in Honda vehicles in the 2001 model year.
The settlement concludes a multi-state investigation into Honda’s alleged failure to inform regulators and consumers that the frontal airbags posed a significant risk of rupture, which could cause metal fragments to fly into the passenger compartments of many Honda and Acura vehicles. The ruptures have resulted in at least 14 deaths and more than 200 injuries in the United States alone.
“Marketing its vehicles as safe, despite numerous signs that these airbags posed a significant threat to consumers, was wrong,” Carr said. “Our office will remain vigilant as we continue to protect Georgians from unlawful actions that pose a threat to their health and safety.”
The settlement, which totaled $85.1 million, was reached between Honda and the attorneys general of 45 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The plaintiffs claimed Honda engineers suspected that the airbags’ propellant – ammonium nitrate – could burn aggressively and cause the inflator to burst.
Despite these concerns, Honda delayed warning consumers or automobile safety officials, even as it began partial recalls of affected vehicles in 2008 and 2009. Further, Honda continued to represent to consumers that its vehicles, including its airbags, were safe.
Since 2008, Honda has recalled 12.9 million Honda and Acura vehicles equipped with the suspect inflators.
Under the consent judgment, to be filed in Fulton County Superior Court, Honda has agreed to the following requirements:
Ensure that future airbag designs include “fail-safe” features to protect passengers in the event the inflator ruptures.
Adopt changes to its procurement process for new frontal airbags, to ensure that its suppliers have the appropriate industry certifications and satisfy key industry performance standards.
Implement recurrence prevention procedures designed to prevent defective airbags in the future.
Abide by prohibitions on misleading advertisements and point-of-sale representations regarding the safety of Honda vehicles, including the airbags.
Make improvements in critical areas such as risk management, quality control, supplier oversight, training and certifications, and implementing mandatory whistleblower protections.
Consumers who own a Honda or Acura vehicle are strongly encouraged to visit Honda’s airbag recall website at https://hondaairbaginfo.com, or call its Customer Service toll-free number at (888) 234-2138, to see if their vehicle is subject to a recall.
ATLANTA – Georgia State University has set records for the largest enrollment and largest freshman class in its history.
More than 54,000 students signed up for the fall semester at Georgia State, with more than 5,200 freshmen entering the downtown Atlanta campus. The previous records were set last year with more than 53,000 students and 4,600 freshmen.
“This is the first time in Georgia State history we have topped 5,000 students in our fall freshman bachelor’s class,” said Timothy M. Renick, senior vice president for student success at Georgia State.
“While some may find it surprising that Georgia State is setting enrollment records during a pandemic, the value of a college education has never been higher and with all the flexibility we provide, Georgia State has never been a more attractive option.”
Meanwhile, more than 2,500 freshmen are starting classes at Georgia State’s Perimeter College campuses. Since Georgia State’s consolidation with Georgia Perimeter College in 2016, graduation rates at the two-year school have tripled.
Overall, Georgia State awarded more than 10,500 degrees in the last academic year, another record that surpasses the previous high of 10,200 in 2019. Those students completed their last semester taking their classes online after the spread of COVID-19 prompted the University System of Georgia to shut down in-person instruction.
Incoming freshmen at the Atlanta campus scored an average high school grade point average of 3.54, also a record.
The university also set all-time highs for the number of Black and Hispanic students enrolled as freshmen, up 5 percent and 2 percent, respectively, over last year’s record highs.
Georgia State students hail from 49 states and more than 167 nations and territories.