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Editorial: There are some Capitol ideas brewing
Bills addressing opioid addiction, adoptions and distracted driving are worthwhile efforts

Last week, we addressed some proposals in the Georgia General Assembly we felt were a frivolous waste of time designed to score political points.

But it’s fair to say not everything happening under the Gold Dome is a waste of time. In fact, some progress has been made on a few key issues, and it’s fair we acknowledge them and those responsible.

Opioid abuse: The crisis of opioid addiction is taking a heavy toll in lives lost and dollars spent. The number of overdose cases from opioids jumped by some 300 in Georgia over a two-year period, and tripled at Northeast Georgia Medical Center from 2015 to 2016.

The Senate last week unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Buford Sen. Renee Unterman to tackle the problem on several fronts. It’s up to the House now to finish the deal and send something of value to the governor.

The plan would create a 15-person commission with a director appointed by the governor to offer solutions to the addiction epidemic while looking to secure grant money for nonprofit recovery programs. The Senate bill also would increase penalties for health care professionals who abuse their privilege through illegal kickbacks to shady treatment centers.

Though it may not address all issues related to addiction, the plan appears a good start and a full awakening to the scope of the problem. If the commission it would create can steer the state toward addressing both stricter enforcement against unscrupulous drug peddlers while expanding recovery options, it could help put a dent in this major health crisis.

But the ideal solution involves more than government. Late last year, Northeast Georgia Health System created the D-CARES Peer Support program, aimed to connect recovery specialists and those who are in need of help. Partnership for a Drug Free Hall offers a regular Parent Peer Support Group meeting on Tuesdays for parents who have lost a child to addiction. And both the Gainesville Police Department and Hall County Sheriff’s Office provides pill drop-off options to help residents dispose of excess drugs.

All efforts and partnerships between nonprofits, churches and government agencies are key to finding solutions to the crisis.

“A lot of people are going to have to play a role in this, not just the addict, not just the family, not just the doctors, not just the communities,” Gainesville state Sen. Butch Miller said. “It’s going to take everyone working together.”

Adoption: The long-awaited reform of Georgia’s adoption process appeared headed for passage last year but was derailed at the last minute in a debate over religious freedom exemptions for church-related groups uncomfortable handling adoptions for same-sex couples or gay children. 

That issue is now being addressed in a separate bill, as it should be, and is worthy of a full discussion. With it set aside, adoption reform was able to pass and head to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk, one he is eager to sign.

Among the changes are a reduction in time a birth mother has to change her mind to regain custody of a child from 10 days to four. It also will allow adoptive parents to provide living expenses to a birth mother in private adoption cases.

Another contentious topic would give individuals or nonprofits power of attorney over a child without state oversight, a sticking point for many who fear it could keep a child in an unhealthy home environment without government’s ability to manage the child’s welfare. A compromise in the measure increases background checks and requirements for those who seek such custody.

The hope is that when it takes effect, the new law will streamline the adoption process for Georgia couples who often have sought agencies outside of the state because of the obstacles found here.

Distracted driving: A proposal that has yet to come to a vote is one in the House that would increase penalties for drivers who use cellphones without a hands-free device. 

The consensus belief is that distracted driving is largely to blame for the spike in highway crashes in Georgia and nationwide. The new law would allow drivers to make a call only through a hands-free device or speakerphone that leaves their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

The state made texting while driving illegal in 2010, which helped drop the percentage of fatal accidents involving distracted drivers below 10 percent. Now it’s back on the rise, constituting some 3.5 percent of deadly wrecks in 2016, according to the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

In fairness, there are any number of ways drivers are distracted, cellphones being only one, and it’s hard to measure how many accidents are directly attributed to their use. But as the technology for safer calls becomes more available, it makes sense to encourage motorists to use it for the safety of themselves, their passengers and others on the road. No call is worth our lives, and if this law can have the same positive effect on safety the 2010 texting ban did, it is worthy of a full debate.

These are just three examples of potential laws legislators are proposing to boost the health, safety and well-being of Georgians. If all three make it into law, along with a sensible budget and other key needs such as education funding and rural improvements, we can count it as a successful session in spite of a few distractions to the contrary.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a letter to the editor; you can use this form or send email to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.

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