Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:
Morning News, Savannah, Georgia, on medicinal marijuana:
IT'S DISAPPOINTING that Georgia's sheriffs oppose a measure that could do much good for Georgians who suffer from chronic diseases like cancer and seizure disorders.
Last week, the executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association, J. Terry Norris, said members of the organization are concerned that a bill that would legalize cannabis oil for medical use in limited circumstances would expand. Mr. Norris told an Atlanta area TV station that the sheriffs didn't object to children getting the treatment. But adults apparently were another matter.
That prompts some questions. Did Georgia's elected sheriffs read the medical marijuana bill that State Rep. Allen Peake, a Republican from Macon, is sponsoring? Have they been following the logic behind it?
Or, are these lawmen mostly reacting to false assumptions, that passing this measure means more potheads, and that may hurt their re-election chances?
Let's cut through the political haze.
There exists within the marijuana plant a substance, called cannibis oil, that helps control seizures. No one is apparently sure why it does scientifically. But medical testing is under way in places like the Georgia Regents University in Augusta, under U.S. Food and Drug Administration supervision.
In the meantime, a number of Georgia families are traveling to Colorado, where marijuana use is legal under state law, to get the medical help they need for their loved ones. In fact, 23 states have legalized marijuana for medical use.
True, the federal law currently lists marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, putting it on par with heroin and LSD. But increasing evidence shows that the feds are badly out of step on this issue.
That doesn't mean pot legalization, which raises a host of concerns, is the solution. Instead, it means that medical marijuana should be treated more like a prescription drug and less like a dangerous, highly addictive substance that ruins lives.
Peake's medical marijuana bill passed the state House last year, but stalled in the state Senate. He's giving it a second try this session. Let's hope he enlists State Sen. Ben Watson, a Republican from Savannah and a physician, to clear this hurdle.
Meanwhile, sheriffs who don't trust lawmakers — a not unreasonable assumption at times — should listen to State Rep. Bill Hitchens, a Republican from Rincon. He retired after a long, stellar career from the Georgia State Patrol. If Mr. Peake's bill was a bad one, he'd be among the first to shoot it down. Instead, he's backing it.
"Marijuana oil has some medical benefits for those that suffer from health conditions causing seizures," Mr. Hitchens said in a guest column published last month in EffinghamNow, a sister publication of this newspaper. "I support tightly worded legislation that allows the use of marijuana oil for medicinal purposes only and has stiff penalties outside of this use."
He went on to say that he won't support a bill that allows marijuana to be grown and sold for recreational drug use — a position that many Georgians support at this point.
Georgia's sheriffs should stop blowing smoke, examine the facts and support the safe and humane treatment of fellow Georgians who are suffering.
The Times, Gainesville, Georgia, on road tax detour:
Georgia's ongoing transportation problems are a long and winding road, often clogged with ice, potholes, orange barrels and the nagging sense that it's an issue that may never be fully resolved.
Last week, state lawmakers unveiled their plan to raise $1 billion in transportation funds. The proposal would replace Georgia's fuel sales taxes with an excise tax of 29.2 cents per gallon. Lawmakers also plan to use a bond package to help pay for roads and transit and levy a stiff fee on drivers of hybrid vehicles.
It's a complex plan, one many are still sorting through to determine its effects. We'll likely pay more at the pump, and perhaps in other ways, as higher fuel costs could well raise prices for other goods and services.
The plan already has local officials howling that it replaces sales taxes split among all governments with an excise tax that goes to the state. That would drastically cut revenue for county and city governments just now getting back on their feet after years of austerity cuts during the recession.
Current sales taxes collected through special purpose local option sales taxes would be collected until those SPLOSTs end. After that, local governments could impose their own excise taxes on fuel of 3 cents per gallon strictly for transportation spending. But most worry that would still not collect as much in revenue as the current 3 percent sales tax, plus SPLOST pennies, that would be lost from their general funds.
That would leave cities and counties with tough choices: Go back to cutting services, pay and jobs, or raise property taxes to plug the gap.
"They're just passing the buck, and it's not fair," Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said, knowing that buck stops with him, his city council and county commissioners who have to play the bad guys and suffer the political blowback.
Many wonder why Georgia leaders couldn't just raise gasoline taxes and be done with it. Polls show a majority of state residents agree a growing state can't continue to attract jobs without the means to move people and goods efficiently. Yet the seemingly inconsistent flip side is that most Georgians are unwilling to pay more in taxes for that crucial need. Politicians who sign anti-tax pledges note this, then try to devise plans to make it appear they're not doing so.
Even when we agree roads, schools, public safety and health need more funding, too much money still is spent on needless projects aimed at political backers, boondoggles that build up both costs and cynicism.
Take Georgia's new excise tax plan. If it passes, how do we know that 29.2 cents per gallon will be spent wisely? What projects will get priority and who will benefit most? No one knows yet.
That's why the regional transportation sales tax plan, or T-SPLOST, proposed in 2012 was a better idea. It would have kept that tax money closer to home in each designated region, money collected and spent on specific local transportation projects. Though the usual political wrangling would result, at least would have been localized, with the politicians spending that money answerable directly to their constituents.
Now the state is asking all Georgians to dump money into a large pot only to have it doled out around the state in a process, and for projects, not yet defined.
The T-SPLOST only passed in three regions of the state, where such tax is already being collected. So those folks could get hit twice at the pumps: Once for local road needs and again with the state tax.
All in all, the jury is out on the tax plan, and until more is learned, we shouldn't deem it dead on arrival. The hope is that lawmakers will revise it to meet concerns by local officials, ensure the costs are shared equitably and that money is spent aimed at solutions, not politics.
The Augusta (Georgia) Chronicle on Eric Holder:
The confirmation hearing for attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch could have been much shorter.
Everything you need to know about President Obama's selection to replace Eric Holder got summed up in one question-and-answer exchange.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions asked Lynch who had a greater right to work in this country - illegal immigrants, or legal immigrants and American citizens.
Lynch's response: "Senator, I believe the right and the obligation to work is one that is shared by everyone in this country, regardless of how they came here."
Let that sink in. The person seeking to become the nation's top law enforcement official believes that anyone who enters this country illegally has a right to work here.
That alone should disqualify Lynch for the Cabinet post. And her immigration stance didn't appear any better when she revealed her opinion that Obama's executive action on immigration doesn't qualify as "amnesty."
Do we really want an attorney general who doesn't grasp the basic rule of law?