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Georgia editorial roundup

October 23, 2019 GMT

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:


Oct. 22

The Valdosta Daily Times on teaching young drivers not to be distracted by their phones:

A new study out this week indicates teenagers are getting their driver’s license and hitting the roads in record numbers.

We urge parents to reinforce the dangers of distracted driving and to model good behavior.

The new report reveals a changing trend in teen licensure from when the AAA Foundation first evaluated the issue in 2012. At the time, the country was just emerging from a recession and many young people cited their family’s inability to afford the high cost of driving as a reason why they did not obtain their license sooner.

The new AAA (auto club) Foundation study surveyed young adults ages 18-24 to determine when they obtained their license and found that nationally, 40.8% got their license at or before age 16 and 60.3% got their license before the age of 18.

“The trend for teens to acquire their driver’s license has changed over the past 10 years,” Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said in a prepared statement. “Many are getting licensed before the age of 18, which means more of Generation Z is learning to drive under the protection of state graduated driver licensing programs and parental supervision.”

We urge young drivers to put the phone down.

Texting and driving kills.

Drivers have been warned about it. Laws have been passed to prevent it.

Everyone has heard about all the serious injuries and deaths caused by distracted driving but our roadways are still full of people texting and driving.

Georgia’s “hands-free” law took effect July 1 last year.

It doesn’t appear to have even made a dent in the number of people texting and driving.

And people are dying on our roadways at an alarming rate.

The law prohibits drivers from having a phone or stand-alone electronic device in their hands or touching any part of their body while operating a motor vehicle on Georgia roadways.

A Bluetooth speakerphone, earpiece, electronic watch or wireless headset is allowed so long as it is not being operated by the driver’s hand. The use of GPS and navigational devices are allowed but drivers cannot have a phone in their hand or supported by any part of their body.

The law is designed to prevent cellphones from interfering with a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle and keep attention on the road.

Distracted driving is a danger to everyone on the roadways.

The law allows drivers to use “hands-free” technology to make or receive phone calls and use GPS devices, but drivers cannot at any time use their phones to write, read or send text messages, e-mails, social media and internet data. The use of voice-to-text technology is allowed, officials explained.

The hands-free law also prohibits drivers from watching videos as well as recording videos, though GPS navigational videos and continuously running dash cams are permitted.

Drivers can listen to music through streaming apps on their phone, but they cannot activate their apps or change music through their phone while driving. Music streaming apps programmed and controlled through the vehicle’s radio system are allowed.

Music streaming apps that also have video are not allowed since the law specifically prohibits drivers from watching videos.

For anyone still confused about what they are allowed to do when driving, you cannot have a phone in your hands or on any part of your body if you want to make or receive a phone call or use GPS.

You cannot legally text, e-mail or surf the internet on your phone at all when you are driving.

Distracted driving is illegal and deadly.

Online: https://www.valdostadailytimes.com


Oct. 19

The Augusta Chronicle on lack of supermarkets or healthy food options in parts of Georgia:

You might have lived here your entire lives without realizing Augusta’s landscape includes dangerous deserts and swamps right in the middle of town.

The Augusta Commission might not have known, either, until resident Von Pouncey gave its members a geography lesson of sorts earlier this month.

The places Pouncey referred to are actually food deserts and food swamps. A food desert is a neighborhood with little access to affordable, healthy food. There aren’t many - if any - grocery stores, farmers’ markets or other stores where neighborhood residents can buy something nutritious to eat. You’d have to have a reliable car or a desire to walk several miles.

A food swamp, on the other hand, has food - but like a real swamp has water: It’s there, but there are few benefits from consuming it. Food swamps are neighborhoods that have fast-food places, convenience stores and liquor stores, and abundant junk food outstrips healthy-food options.

In nature, a place that’s a desert and a swamp at the same time would be a topographical oddity. In Augusta, it’s the Laney-Walker neighborhood.

To get a feeling for what it’s like to live in a neighborhood with such bad access to good food, Pouncey told commissioners she shopped for food only in the Laney-Walker area for three weeks. In that time she didn’t visit a single supermarket because there aren’t any supermarkets.

She had to visit dollar stores and convenience stores instead, where it’s not unusual for food to be either expired or outrageously overpriced. For what you would pay for a gallon of milk, Pouncey paid for just a quart.

“It was not easy to resist an urge to get in my car to go to another state or go to another district,” she said.

It’s not easy for anybody.

If you want an exact number, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 23 million people live in food deserts that are at least one mile away from a supermarket. That 23 million includes about 6 million children.

It’s enough to make you sick. We hope you didn’t eat before reading this. But if you did, you probably didn’t have a problem getting that food.

In Laney-Walker, you used to be able to walk a mile or two to the 15th Street Kroger supermarket - until it closed two years ago. Currently it’s about a two- or three-mile walk to Paul’s IGA on East Boundary Street. We wouldn’t advise buying frozen food before hiking back in the Georgia heat.

And the local problem isn’t exclusive to Laney-Walker. In 2013, Augusta Chronicle staff writers Sandy Hodson and Tom Corwin performed a detailed analysis of Richmond County’s healthy food options and found five areas that could be classified as food deserts

The five were the Turpin Hill and Bethlehem neighborhoods, bordering Laney-Walker; downtown Augusta; the lower east side of south Augusta; and an area east of Washington Road to the Savannah River bordered by Interstate 20 and the Columbia County line There were plenty of fast-food places. There were high percentages of people in poverty, except for that border area.

You could rattle off a lot of reasons for why Laney-Walker isn’t vibrant and thriving. Poverty has taken root in places such as Laney-Walker because of the lack of jobs and stable two-parent households - factors that contribute to an area’s food insecurity, because retailers don’t want to build groceries in such neighborhoods.

So folks who have low incomes to begin with are forced to shop where food prices are too high. The food they get isn’t the best to maintain good health.

And - as we’ve said before - how alert and focused will a student be in school if the child is not properly fed at home? Or what if the child is fed, but fed the wrong food - contributing to America’s childhood obesity problem?

Even Golden Harvest Food Bank’s superb work in providing sustenance to the area’s hungry isn’t quite enough to feed the enormous need.

You can’t develop a recipe for success with a shortage of ingredients.

There are, however, encouraging plans for Laney-Walker. Investors are exploring the potential of that long-struggling section of the city, and there are new residential and commercial projects on the drawing board and nearly ready to go.

But there still isn’t a grocery store. And there were very few, if any, easy ways to get nutritious food.

Thankfully, that could change, and it’s about time.

Tim McFalls, the Augusta Economic Development Authority’s retail and commercial manager, is in lease negotiations with the Good Food Markets chain on possibly bringing one of its stores to Laney-Walker - not soon, but it’s not years away, either.

A Good Food Markets store is not like a typical supermarket. The space figure being discussed in local negotiations is about 1,000 square feet. It’s more like how neighborhood markets were before supermarkets sprang up. The stores’ goal is to give a supermarket’s selection in a small space, and they rely on local food producers and distributors to accomplish that.

More importantly, the Good Food business model targets food deserts.

Good Food has requirements it must meet before locating in a community, much like any supermarket chain. But while other groceries operate with a profit motive, Good Food is the flagship project of the nonprofit Oasis Community Partners. With support from both public and nonprofit partners, Good Food goes where retailers won’t.

That partnership of stakeholders could start momentum toward true revitalization. With steady access to nutritious food, a neighborhood’s health improves, which improves its morale and spirit, which could encourage a neighborhood to improve overall. Over time, that could even attract more retailers, which would continue the cycle of growth and prosperity.

Deserts and swamps usually aren’t ideal places to build. But laying down a strong enough foundation could help transform the landscape into something remarkable.

Online: https://www.augustachronicle.com


Oct. 19

The Savannah Morning News on proposed Georgia Power rate hikes:

The line for those eager to pay more for electricity, or anything for that matter, is about as long as the one to swim with malnourished alligators.

Georgia Power’s proposed rate hike has customers mimicking a swamp full of crabby reptiles. Approximately 75 local ratepayers joined two state regulators for a town hall on the subject last week at the Coastal Georgia Center.

Seventeen Savannahians spoke at the event, and the majority weren’t the environmental activists who frequently criticize the public utility. Most of the comments came from citizens concerned with what a bigger power bill will mean to their wallets.

Attendees raised many salient points, particularly in terms of Georgia Power’s proposed billing method. The utility plans a significant hike -- 79.5% -- to the monthly base fee and a more nominal increase in the consumption rate.

This approach eases Georgia Power’s ability to predict revenues, especially during extremely hot summers or exceptionally cold winters, but the attendees said it diminishes the economic incentive for ratepayers to conserve energy. Instead of a “use more, pay more” model based on charging per kilowatt hour, the premium is on the service connection.

Many of the customers who use the least amount of electricity are seniors and low-income families -- those who can least absorb a major bill increase. Georgia Power has pledged breaks for those customers but has yet to unveil those plans.

This has created a PR dilemma for Georgia Power, one critics are seizing on. That the utility also cites coal ash cleanup among its justifications for the increase is another point of contention. Then there’s the continued angst over the cost overruns at Plant Vogtle, though Vogtle is not a part of this rate plan.

Public outcry is understandable. But before you start picketing your neighborhood substation, it’s important to consider the full context of Georgia Power’s proposal.

- Building a budget

Every three years, Georgia Power must present a rate plan to the Georgia Public Service Commission, the elected board that regulates the state’s utilities.

The process forces Georgia Power to project its costs. A utility is a capital-intensive business -- from building, operating and maintaining power generation facilities to investing in all the equipment, such as poles and power lines that keep the grid hot.

Georgia Power must also plan for the unexpected, specifically storm recovery expenses. The company has already depleted its storm recovery reserves and spent an additional $450 million to address the effects of extreme weather throughout the state.

All the while, Georgia Power is required, per agreement with the PSC, to provide a minimum shareholder return of 10%, which is factored into the plan as well.

Some will argue Georgia Power’s floor is too high, although it falls within the national range. PSC staff, in a recent filing, has suggested an adjustment to Georgia Power’s profit margin band, which also includes a ceiling whereby excess profits must be returned to customers.

The margin will certainly be part of the PSC-Georgia Power discussion later this year.

Therein lies another misnomer: that Georgia Power’s rate proposal is an all-or-nothing prospect. The plan was filed in June for stakeholder and PSC scrutiny. The PSC has held one public hearing and will host two more in November.

The proposal will be finalized in December. If history is a guide, the actual rate increase will fall below the initially requested amount.

The last time Georgia Power requested a rate increase, 2013, the utility asked for $1.4 billion and received $870 million. Three years earlier, in 2010, Georgia Power requested $2.4 billion; the PSC approved a bump worth $1.55 billion.

Just two days ago, the PSC staff recommended Georgia Power be granted a $1 billion rate increase as opposed to the $2.2 billion request.

The takeaway for ratepayers is this: Express concerns about the proposed rate hike, but dial back the outrage. That two PSC members traveled to Savannah last week to listen to citizen feedback is encouraging.

Let’s keep the conversation going.

Online: https://www.savannahnow.com