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Wednesday, February 5, 2014 - 12:36pm

Biz Backs Common Core, Clergy Question Gun Bill

When was the last time you felt bad for the business sector? Indeed, many people lament that the so-called “fat cats” on Wall Street who helped to cause the Great Recession still run free.

But on Wednesday, the business community took the unprecedented step of publicly backing – and asking everyone else to back – something fairly simple: Wanting little Johnny to learn how to read and add up two and two, and being able to measure how well Johnny in Georgia does it compared to William in New York and Sally in California.

Common Core’s backers held a press conference at the Capitol to bolster support for the educational standards used by Georgia and 45 other states.

Last week’s snow storm, affectionately referred to as "SnowJam 2014," caused many groups to postpone events last week. That means the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and other groups backing the Common Core wound up holding their press conference on the heels of yesterday’s rally by anti-Common Core activists.

Can Johnny Count To 20?

In an interview before the event, Chris Clark of the Georgia Chamber spelled out what it would mean if Georgia backed away from the common education standards it adopted in 2012.

“It sends messages to companies all around the world that we’re going backwards,” he said. “We’re not moving the ball forward. We’re not having more rigorous standards. We want to lessen those standards. And that doesn’t give us a 21st century workforce. And it doesn’t help our kids compete for seats at Georgia and Georgia Tech and Harvard and Yale. We think it sends the wrong message and it wastes taxpayer dollars.”

Far be it for me to tell anyone what the takeaway is, but I’d like to pause a moment to consider this claim, which is very important to Georgians: it wastes taxpayer dollars. The group says the millions of dollars already spent on Common Core would go to waste, and it would cost millions more to start a new program.

But Chris Clark isn’t only the head of the Georgia Chamber. He’s also the father of a second-grader. And here’s something else he said that any parent can relate to:

“This is simply saying by the end of second grade, he can count to 20,” he said of his son. “That’s a pretty low bar. It should probably higher than that. But it gives us a benchmark.”

The Common Core education standards have blown up into a controversy, largely within conservative Republican circles. And as I noted yesterday, those opposed to the common standards have chosen as their rallying cry: “Common Core will do to the educational system what Obamacare is doing to the healthcare system.”

Georgia adopted the standards of the voluntary program used by nearly all of the states in 2012. But Republican lawmakers like state Sen. William Ligon of Brunswick are vehemently against it, and he’s filed legislation to remove Georgia from the Common Core.

As I noted yesterday, he and other opponents say the Common Core standards are inferior and the process by which Georgia adopted the curriculum wasn’t transparent.

Guns in God's House

Moving onto other issues that continue to swirl around the state Capitol from one year to another, let’s talk about guns. Lawmakers are considering a bill that would loosen restrictions on where Georgians can carry firearms. In advance of a hearing Wednesday, clergy weighed in on the proposal. And that brings us to George Tatro.

He loves guns. As he puts it, “Boys and their toys.”

Tatro is also the pastor of Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church in Stone Mountain. But he doesn’t want to combine those two sides of his identity. He was one of a dozen religious leaders who met with the news media Wednesday near the Capitol before speaking with legislative leaders. They are against any bill that would allow people to carry guns in churches, synagogues or other places of worship.

Tatro owns a whole mess of guns and once held A license to carry them in public. He’s let it expire but he knows what rights the license conveys. And he said there’s a reason lawmakers haven’t allowed guns in certain public places like sporting venues and churches.

“There is a public good and an individual interest,” he said. “No matter how well-trained you are, weapons go off. It’s not in the public interest. And it wasn’t a problem but all of a sudden it seems that the legislature feels that it’s suddenly become an interest that we must address. And I’m at a loss as to why it’s suddenly something we must address."

Rabbi Peter S. Berg echoed those remarks. He leads the Temple on Peachtree Street in Atlanta.

“The largest Jewish congregation in the state of Georgia doesn’t believe that guns belong in houses of worship,” he said, to a chorus of amens. “Guns don’t belong in churches and synagogues period, and this bill is designed to complicate and confuse the law for the citizens of Georgia. It should be pure and simple: no guns allowed.”

But Rep. Alan Powell, a Hartwell Republican, stresses most licensed gun owners aren’t the problem. They’ve passed background checks. And their guns are their property. He said houses of worship would have the option of opting out. But he agrees more can be done to keep people with mental illness from carrying a gun.

He held a crowded hearing Wednesday afternoon on the bill that was attended by opponents. Discussion on the bill is slated to continue on Thursday.

State Of The Judiciary? Unequal

Tired? I hope not. We still need to talk about the state of the Judiciary. But I can give you the Cliffs Notes version: It’s unequal. Let me hand the floor over Hugh Thompson, chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.

“Georgia’s judicial system is sound, and it is strong – for those who can afford a lawyer,” he told a joint session of the legislature Wednesday morning. “But to safeguard its future, we must guarantee access to justice for all people, as our laws were not made for just a few. Too many Georgians cannot afford legal representation, and too many go without civil legal services. Today, nearly 2 million Georgians – or about 19 percent of our population – live below the poverty line."

Thompson said 70 percent of the lawyers in Georgia work in a five-county concentration of the Atlanta area. And the number of people representing themselves in legal proceedings is increasing.

“We must take steps to correct the imbalance,” Thompson said.

Sounds like another chapter in the rural/urban divide.

But I don’t mean to end on a downer. So let me say that coming up Thursday, GPB’s On The Story will feature its regular weekly political roundtable with Eric Tanenblatt, Buddy Darden and Jim Galloway.

And Friday’s show will include a panel discussion on the representation of women in Georgia politics. Your female GPB News Now correspondent doesn’t plan to miss that.

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