Ga. lawmakers tell child advocates not to expect much

ATLANTA -- Lawmakers from committees related to children warned advocates not to expect major initiatives during the 2014 legislative session that begins Monday.

 

Their comments came Thursday at a meeting organized by the Children’s Advocacy Network.

“We have been asked by everybody ‘what’s going to be happening during the session,’” said Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus. “The answer is not a whole lot.”

Sen. Fran Millar, R-Atlanta, offered terse replies when advocates asked about various proposals. “I don’t think it will go anywhere” in response to a question about increasing the school dropout age. “Not going to happen” as answer to withholding drivers’ licenses from dropouts.

And when asked about a controversial “parent trigger” bill that would convert schools to charter schools whenever parents vote, he said, “I don’t anticipate it in this current session.”

From the House of Representatives, Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, also lowered expectations because it’s an election year with legislators eager to quickly adjourn and get back to campaigning. Plus, state tax collections still haven’t returned to the level before the recession, meaning little money available for agencies like the Department of Juvenile Justice.

A state report released last month showed that turnover among guards in juvenile-detention centers is largely due to low pay. Another report blamed funding for some of the problems stemming from poor oversight of children in foster care or state supervision.

“It gets to be a difficult situation when they have a hard time paying for copies of documents that are required,” Weldon said.

The only initiatives the bipartisan panel said would be coming were those with no cost and little controversy. McKoon will introduce a bill to allow students to read inspirational messages in school, and Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Atlanta, is sponsoring a bill to transfer a child-oversight panel from one agency to another.

Weldon said the House Juvenile Justice Committee he chairs will focus on the implications of a law from last year instead of new ones. That new law shifted responsibility for disciplining and counseling unruly children from the state to the counties.

“That’s going to be the priority issue: how to pay for that, how to get that off the ground,” he said.

 

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