Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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June 18

The Brunswick News on the rising numbers of sea turtles nesting on the Georgia coast:

It is always sad to see an animal species on the brink of extinction. The world loses a little bit of its luster when we lose an entire species. That's why the recent nesting numbers for sea turtles this year is such an encouraging sign.

Through noon Friday, 1,857 sea turtle nests with more than 70,700 estimated eggs have been laid on the Georgia coast. That many nests at this point of the season is astonishing, and has hopefully already grown by the time you read this today.

According to seaturtle.org, Jekyll Island leads all sites in all states with 314 nesting season events as of Friday. In second is the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Reserarch Reserve, just north of St. Augustine, with 135 events.

The numbers are historic when you begin to break it down. The month of May saw 1,029 nests, a number that obliterated both the average nest total for May (339) and the previous record high for May (596).

State Department of Natural Resources biologist Mark Dodd said that while, "It's important to remember that the May nesting numbers are not always indicative of the final nest total," the numbers in May are a good sign that the hard work put into sea turtle conservation is paying off.

Part of that effort has been educating the public on what we can do to help out our sea turtle friends. Organizations like the St. Simons Island Sea Turtle Project help get out the word through educational campaigns. Their campaign this year has included signage at beach access points, door-to-door canvassing and informational table tents displayed by local businesses.

We encourage everyone to follow some simple rules to give the turtles the best chance they can to survive. If you live by the beach, be sure to turn out lights on the beach and close any shades of beach-facing windows. Other steps like filling in sand castles, keeping dogs on leashes and discarding chairs, tents and trash used on the beach are all steps that require very little work, but will help stack the odds in the turtle's favor.

The situation for the world's seven sea turtle species is not a pretty one. Six of the species are considered to be at least vulnerable to facing a high risk of extinction in the wild with some critically endangered, meaning the species is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.

These numbers are a good sign not only for this year's nesting season, but hopefully for the viability of the species.

We hope this season finishes as strongly as it started in May. If we can keep it up, maybe one day in the near future the species will no longer be at risk for extinction.

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June 17

Savannah Morning News on the Georgia legislature's study of maternal mortality rates in the state:

Every so often, an astute political move leads to exceptional public policy.

The Georgia House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality promises to demonstrate that truth in exploring solutions for a troubling and unacceptable problem.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) named the panel members June 10 and tasked them with studying how the state can turn around its nation's-worst maternal death rate. The measure reflects the number of women per 100,000 live births who die during pregnancy or childbirth.

One Georgia news organization, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, pointed out that the state's rate of 20.5 is worse than that of Uzbekistan, an underdeveloped country in the former Soviet bloc.

Such a poor standing is reason enough for action. Yet, in this instance, timing plays a role, too.

Future legislation aimed at improving Georgia's maternal mortality is part of what the state's Republican leadership calls its "culture of life" package. These initiatives also include coming adoption and health care reforms and one particularly polarizing measure that is already law: The Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act (LIFE), better known as the fetal heartbeat bill.

"I view that bill not as over here by itself," Ralston said of the LIFE Act, "but part of a package."

The heartbeat law doesn't take effect until January at the earliest — it is facing court challenges. By that time the Georgia General Assembly will be entering its 2020 session.

Addressing maternal mortality and these other "culture of life" issues will allow lawmakers and Gov. Brian Kemp to broaden, if not shift, the narrative around what amounts to an abortion ban.

That's where politics meets policy. No matter your stance on abortion and the heartbeat bill, all are in favor of reducing the rate of women who die in pregnancy or childbirth. Women shaken by the push for the LIFE Act, driven almost exclusively by male legislators, will appreciate the maternal mortality efforts.

Question the motives if you want, but don't dwell on them. If a desire to dampen the outcry over the abortion ban played even a small role in pushing Georgia's leaders to focus on maternal mortality, so be it. ...

The Georgia House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality won't run short of potential fixes to the state's dispiriting rate.

Given that the problem reflects a woman's access to health care — and that Kemp and the Legislature have prioritized that shortcoming — the panel should have plenty of resources.

The governor's office is moving ahead with crafting a health care waiver program aimed at accessing additional Medicaid dollars. The waivers should lead to coverage for more women of child-bearing age and limit the potential financial losses at rural hospitals, which in Georgia treat a disproportionate number of uninsured patients.

The committee's ability to work in tandem with those creating the waiver plan should ensure maternal mortality considerations figure prominently in the program.

The panel will also have access to reams of research. Several groups, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to Amnesty International to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, have studied the causes of death for would-be or new moms.

Few women recognize the most troubling warning signs, such as hypertension, depression, even hemorrhages. Proper prenatal care can curb these factors, as can education. Given that race is a significant factor in maternal mortality — African-American women contribute to the rate at three times that of women of other races — the committee can tailor its solutions to best reach that demographic.

Saving Georgia mothers and improving their health during pregnancy will take a comprehensive approach. Count Speaker Ralston among those who saw maternal mortality largely as a rural or socioeconomic issue. While women in those circumstances are at higher risk, the danger "cuts across all," Ralston said.

"We're looking for that committee to drill down and understand how we got here," Ralston said. "I'm not sure what all the answers will be, and neither does anyone else."

Southeast Georgia is not represented on the Georgia House Study Committee on Maternal Mortality. The panel is co-chaired by an Augusta physician specializing in emergency medicine, Mark Newton.

We wish them well in their studies and look forward to the legislation they produce.

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June 13

The Augusta Chronicle on how Georgia cities are tackling the problem of damaged properties:

About a year ago, several Augusta commissioners visited a number of blighted properties around the city, guided by the city officials tasked with condemning and demolishing them.

"It's the same lots year after year after year after year," District 1 Commissioner William Fennoy said at the time. Of the many complaints he hears from his constituents, overgrown lots rank No. 1.

Weeds choke vacant lots. When the lots aren't vacant, they're blotted by dilapidated, abandoned or burned-out shells of homes or businesses. It's a lingering problem for Augusta.

And it's hardly unique to Augusta.

This week, the city council in Columbus, on the other side of the state, voted through its city budget for fiscal year 2020 to include $1 million to remove some of the 150 eyesores on that city's list.

That allocation is nearly 18 times larger than the average demolition budget of the Columbus Building Inspections and Code Enforcement — a mere $56,000.

When we last wrote about Augusta's demolition budget, it was $400,000 a year. And that's not even the cost of getting rid of all the eyesores on our city's list. That would cost, at the last estimate, closer to $1.8 million.

But that's the way blight has to be addressed, at least for now. There always seems to be more eyesores than money to get rid of them. And like Augusta and other cities, Columbus has the added problem of getting in touch with the owners of these properties to inform them of their rotten condition. Fully dispensing of a property can take years.

"Every time that new owner comes in, we have to give them the same notifications we gave the previous owner, because a lot of times that owner is walking in and doesn't know (about past issues,)" Columbus Building Inspections and Code Enforcement Director John Hudgison told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

In Savannah, the city hits property owners with a "blight tax." Owners of chronically dilapidated properties see their tax rates jacked up seven times higher than the normal tax rate, stemming from a Community Redevelopment Tax Incentive Ordinance passed in 2017.

In Augusta Commission committee meetings last month, District 9 Commissioner Marion Williams — never one to let an opportunity to complain go to waste — groused that the city's approach to blight hasn't been getting the job done.

"Something's got to change," Williams said.

Planning and Development Director Rob Sherman had to point out, though, that strategies are working. They just work slowly. We're inclined to believe that if Sherman had some bureaucratic magic wand up his sleeve to speed things along, he would have waved it by now.

Augusta should look into tougher rules and tougher enforcement that jolts property owners into action without infringing on their rights. Looking at the remedies sought by other cities might help. After all, Augusta clearly isn't alone in grappling with this problem.

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