Georgia Department of Education to offer career training courses to elementary students

ATLANTA – The Georgia Department of Education (DOE) announced Thursday that it is establishing new Career, Technical and Agricultural Education (CTAE) training courses for the elementary school grades.  

“These elementary Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education courses will build into our middle- and high-school CTAE opportunities and give students the chance to learn about the many options they have for a successful future,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said.

The elementary-grade programs will be available for school districts to pilot starting in the fall of next year.  Eventually, elementary-grade programs will be part of all the career pathways the state offers.  

Georgia’s CTAE program offers 17 career pathway clusters, which train and prepare students for more than 100 career options ranging from finance to manufacturing to arts and audio-visual communications.  

Georgia students who completed the CTAE Pathway graduated at a rate of 97% in the 2020-2021 school year.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

New management company taking over at Stone Mountain next week

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association adopted a new logo for the park last year.

STONE MOUNTAIN – The end of an era is coming to Stone Mountain.

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association board voted unanimously Thursday to end a three-decade management agreement with Herschend Family Entertainment effective Aug. 1.

Herschend had notified the board two years ago of its intention to terminate a lease it entered in 1998.

Board members began negotiations last fall with the company chosen as a finalist to take over management of the park. Thrive Attraction Management is headed by Michael Dombrowski, who has served as the park’s vice president and general manager since 2014.

“It’s a new beginning,” Bill Stephens, the association’s CEO, said after Thursday’s vote. “New beginnings are a good thing.”

New management of the park is not directly related to the other ongoing changes at Stone Mountain aimed at de-emphasizing Confederate imagery at the park to the extent possible without removing the giant carving of three Confederate leaders.

The park has a new logo, and the board has released a request for proposals for a company with experience in museum exhibition design to develop an interpretive plan for an exhibit at Memorial Hall that will tell a more complete story of Stone Mountain’s role in Georgia history.

Under the lease termination agreement the board approved Thursday, Herschend will pay the association $4.7 million in rent payments that were deferred beginning in April 2020 resulting from the onset of the pandemic.

Herschend also has agreed to leave all physical assets intact at the park, except Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Snow Angel, two fixtures at Stone Mountain’s annual Christmas Festival.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Poll shows Georgia Democrats could win this fall with strong turnout

Photo by Beau Evans

ATLANTA – A new poll of battleground states gives Democrats the advantage in both the Georgia governor’s race and the U.S. Senate contest, but only if the party can get its voters to the ballot box.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is leading Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams by 8 points – 51% to 43% – according to the survey of likely voters conducted by Boston-based Beacon Research on behalf of the nonprofit Environmental Project.

However, when the poll asked respondents who said they were unlikely to vote in November, Abrams was up 46% to 34%.

The same dynamic occurred in the Georgia Senate race, although in this case, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock led Republican challenger Herschel Walker both among likely and unlikely voters.

Warnock was 5 points ahead of Walker among likely voters – 48% to 43% – but enjoyed a huge advantage of 48% to 22% among those who said they weren’t likely to vote.

“This data reveals a significant turnout opportunity for Georgia Democrats if they are able to bring low-propensity voters off the sidelines,” the poll’s executive summary stated.

The survey of 3,296 registered voters in Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, and Pennsylvania was conducted online between July 5 and July 20.

Overall, the poll found Democratic Senate and gubernatorial candidates in the lead despite the Republicans’ edge on the generic congressional ballot.

One-third of the respondents in the four states listed inflation and the economy as the most important issue. Nine percent ranked “protecting abortion rights and reproductive rights” as a top priority.

Climate change finished in the top-3 concerns when voters were asked about “long-term” priorities.

Respondents were sourced from a marketplace of online panels, and quotas based on age, gender, ethnicity, and education were used to recruit a representative sample of registered voters across each state.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia’s heartbeat law raises privacy, medical concerns, some advocates say

ATLANTA – Georgia’s abortion law is raising health and privacy concerns among patients and doctors, abortions-rights activists said this week after a federal court upheld the state’s ban on most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.  
But proponents of the new law say those concerns are overblown.
The law – initially passed in the 2019 legislative session – bans abortions after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy. It redefines “a natural person” to include “an unborn child.”  It also changes some aspects of Georgia’s income tax, child support, civil and criminal laws.  
The legislation amounts to a new definition of “personhood,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, an assistant law professor at Georgia State University.
“By changing the legal definition of person, Georgia’s extreme law has introduced an entirely new legal regime in the state that alters the meaning of every single civil and criminal law in the Georgia code,” Kreis said.  
“Will women be investigated for miscarriages? Will women be subjected to the threats and whims of abusive partners who report them for miscarriages or abortions out of state and sue them out of spite?”  
Dr. Nisha Verma, an obstetrician and gynecologist, said the law introduces greater uncertainty over how doctors should handle medical emergencies.
“It’s often unclear to us as doctors when we can legally intervene and take care of the person in front of us,” Verma said.
Opponents of the new law also raised privacy concerns.  
“Without clarity, the new abortion law risks breaking down the confidential, private nature of the doctor-patient relationship, which is so essential for people to get the health care that they directly need,” Kreis said.
“I think a lot of women in Georgia are going to be more nervous about keeping a regular track of their menstrual cycles – and avoiding apps or other digital databases to do so – to make sure they are not pregnant unknowingly. I also suspect some couples and pregnant folks will keep news about pregnancies more hush-hush if there is any substantial risk that something goes wrong.”
The new law includes a few exceptions, such as medical emergencies, rape, or incest.  
It allows abortions before 20 weeks of pregnancy in the case of rape or incest, if an official police report has been filed, a provision that has drawn the ire of abortion-rights activists.  
“The ban requires victims of rape or incest to involve law enforcement in their health-care decision as a condition of ending a pregnancy,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia.  
But the law’s supporters say fears about the new law are exaggerated and embrace its new definition of personhood.  
“Personhood … is extremely important because we are the first in the country to get this passed and  … upheld,” said Martha Zoller, executive director of the Georgia Life Alliance. “[The law] doesn’t ban care for ectopic pregnancies. It doesn’t criminalize miscarriage. … It doesn’t prosecute women.”
The law allows pregnant women to claim child support from the father of an unborn child, Zoller said.   
Women in Georgia who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant still have options, including adoption, she said.
“Don’t feel like the life community is not going to embrace you and help you along the way,” Zoller said. “There are options, and it shouldn’t only be the abortion option that is discussed.” 
Zeller pointed to a law the General Assembly passed this year that allows nonprofits to set up homes for pregnant women and new mothers. The first home for mothers just opened, she said. 
Zoller said the Georgia Life Alliance has no plans to lobby against birth control or for a total abortion ban in Georgia.  
Rather, the organization will focus on increasing regulations around medication abortions in the next legislative session, she said.
The group of plaintiffs – which includes SisterSong, the ACLU, and Planned Parenthood Southeast –   filed a lawsuit in state court Tuesday claiming the heartbeat law violates the Georgia Constitution’s privacy protections. They have requested a hearing next week, when they will ask the judge to temporarily block the law.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.  

Georgia gun manufacturer defends assault weapons in congressional hearing

ATLANTA – Efforts in Congress to ban the types of assault weapons used in recent mass shootings are aiming at the wrong target, the CEO of a Georgia gun manufacturer said Wednesday.

“I believe our nation’s response needs to focus not on a type of gun but on the type of persons most likely to commit mass shootings,” Marty Daniel, founder and CEO of Bryan County-based Daniel Defense told members of the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee. “These acts are committed by murderers. Murderers are responsible.”

Daniel was among the witnesses at the committee’s second hearing on the increase of gun violence in America. Last month, the panel heard gruesome testimony from survivors of recent mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, and law enforcement officials who investigated those killings.

The Democratic-controlled House is expected to vote later this week on legislation banning the sale of military-style assault weapons such as those used in the mass shootings.

Gun violence has become the leading killer of children in the United States, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the committee’s chairman, said at the start of Wednesday’s hearing. The AR-15, with its rapid-fire capability, has become the “weapon of choice” for mass shooters, Maloney said.

Five major firearms manufacturers have collected more than $1 billion in revenue from assault weapons during the last decade through “dangerous” marketing practices designed to appeal to children, she said.

“This is the very definition of putting profits over people,” Maloney said. “The time for dodging accountability is over.”

Daniel said he was horrified by the “pure evil” of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, where the killer used an AR-15 manufactured by Daniel Defense.

But policy makers can put an end to such mass killings without banning lawful and popular weapons Americans are buying in increasing numbers to defend themselves, he said.

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro, a member of the committee, said Democrats are going after gun manufacturers for political purposes while not dealing with the real reasons for the rise in violent crime.

“When are we going to have hearings in this committee holding people responsible … for being soft on crime?” Hice asked. “This is like saying we’re going to blame the manufacturers of forks and spoons for obesity.”

Advocates on both sides of the gun issue also testified Wednesday.

Former high-level gun industry executive Ryan Busse said he quit the business as firearms manufacturers’ marketing became increasingly irresponsible. Busse said there’s no longer room in the industry for “moderation or sensible regulation.”

“Any rational person can see the direct line between their marketing and troubled young men,” he said.

But Antonia Okafor, director of women’s outreach for Gun Owners of America, urged lawmakers not to ban the AR-15 because it’s light enough for women to use.

“The No.-1 reason women buy rifles is for self-defense,” she said. “Banning these firearms will only make it more difficult for women like me to defend their families.”

Even if the Democratic majority in the House passes an assault weapons ban, it would stand little chance in the U.S. Senate, where the rules require at least 10 Republicans to vote with the chamber’s 50 Democrats to pass a bill.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.