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Georgia Briefs - April 3, 2014

Sen. Freddie Powell Sims is appointed to state Child Welfare Reform Council

Freddie Powell Sims

Freddie Powell Sims

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State Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, stanbding with autism advocate Anna Bullard, speaks at the Autism Awarness Day event Wednesday in Atlanta. (Special Photo)

Sen. Sims named to state’s child welfare panel

ATLANTA — State Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, D-Dawson, has been named with 20 others to serve on the state’s newly formed Child Welfare Reform Council. The appointments were announced Wednesday by Gov. Nathan Deal.

The council was created to work to improve Georgia’s welfare system and to better protect children who are in the system.

“With this council now in place, it is our hope to uncover new approaches that will strengthen our child welfare system and ensure that Georgia’s children are given the best shot at a good life,” Deal said. “These appointees have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of children, and I feel confident that together they will produce meaningful and thoughtful reform recommendations.”

The council will convene throughout the year to complete a comprehensive review of the Division of Family and Children Services. It will advise the governor on possible executive agency reforms and legislative fixes if necessary. Stephanie Blank will chair the council and will work in conjunction with the Governor’s Office and the Department of Human Services.

Individuals appointed to the council were Ashley Willcott, executive director, Office of the Child Advocate, Dunwoody; Steve Teske, chief judge of the Juvenile Court of Clayton County, Jonesboro; Peggy Walker, judge of Juvenile Court of Douglas County, Douglasville; Melissa Carter, director, Barton Child Law and Policy Center, Decatur; Donna Hyland, president/CEO, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta; Dr. Cheryl Dozier, president, Savannah State University; Meredith Ramaley, detective, Smyrna Police Department; Heather Rowles, executive director, Multi-Agency Alliance for Children (MAAC), Atlanta; Tyra Walker, WinShape Homes director, Chick-fil-A, Jonesboro; Crystal Williams, founding member, EmpowerMEnt and former foster youth, Atlanta; Lamar Burkett, foster parent and advocate, Moultrie; Bob Bruder-Mattson, CEO, The United Methodist Children’s Home, Roswell; Valerie Condit, school social worker, Fulton County Schools, Atlanta; Duaine Hathaway, executive director, Georgia CASA, Newnan.

Sims, whose district includes Dougherty County, was one of two Democratic lawmakers appointed to the council. Other lawmakers appointed are state Rep. Carolyn Hugley, D-Columbus; Rep. Valerie Clark, R-Lawrenceville; Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs; Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson, and Sen. Fran Millar, R-Dunwoody.

Lawmakers address rising autism rates

ATLANTA — Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and state senators, doctors and autism advocates conducted a news conference Wednesday to bring attention to the increasing rate of autism in the United States.

“In light of the CDC’s recently released report showing a sharp increase in autism rates, it is vitally important we take swift action to help those suffering with an autism spectrum disorder,” state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, said. “The cause of autism remains unknown, but the steps we take today will go a long way toward providing early intervention and treatment options for countless Georgians statewide.”

Unterman noted that recently released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that one in 68 children are now diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The group also reiterated the continued need for autism coverage and discussed initiatives aimed at reducing the disorder’s overall impact on the state.

Unterman introduced in the recently completed legislative session the Kids Care Act, would have provided insurance coverage for children suffering with Autism Spectrum Disorder and enabled further research to be conducted to treat children with seizure disorders. The legislation failed to pass and will have to be brought up in a future session if the issue is not addressed by Gov. Nathan Deal.

Cagle applauded Unterman’s advocacy and said the thanks to Deal’s ;eadership, coverage for ASD is being provided on the State Healthe Benefit Plan, along with more resources for the Department of Public Health to effect early diagnoses. Research conducted by the CDC and other leading advocacy organizations suggests that early intervention and behavioral therapies are the most effective strategies for the long-term care and treatment of autism.

Plan for huge flag unfurls in midst of Legion audit

MACON — It was an all-American idea, patriotic to the hilt: Erect a giant flagpole — maybe the tallest free-standing one in the country — to fly an enormous-as-all-get-out Old Glory.

The plan, unveiled last fall at a groundbreaking attended by local leaders, Macon’s mayor among them, was to put a 60-by-30-foot flag on a 228-foot-tall pole along Interstate 475 at Thomaston Road.

The undertaking, as announced at that late-October gathering, would cost about $40,000 and be paid for by an American Legion post that sits a half-mile or so west of the freeway.

But in recent weeks, the project has come unfurled.

The commander of American Legion Post 3, Kenneth Maye, who had publicly trumpeted the flagpole project, resigned in early March.

Since then, Legion officials have scoured their coffers trying to figure out what might have become of any money earmarked for the flag effort.

The post has been conducting an internal audit.

Meanwhile, Bibb County sheriff’s investigators are examining the post’s financial records for possible wrongdoing.

Legion officials say Maye promised more to the flag project than he should have.

“The executive board of this post did not give any approval for the post to do the flag,” John Griffin, the American Legion’s regional director, said.

— From staff, wire reports