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City schools teachers given COVID-19 supply reimbursement checks before break

Rome City Schools teachers were reimbursed $500 by the school system for COVID-19 related expenses before going on Spring Break this week.

Superintendent Lou Byars hand delivered the checks — funded through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act — to administrators and educators.

“This is just a way we can say thank you for the work you have done and to help you with expenses you have incurred during this last year,” Byars said in an address to the teachers. “We wanted to reimburse you for some of those expenses. We are getting close to the end of this year and I want to again say thank you for all you have done to make this year as normal as possible for our students.”

This teacher reimbursement program was approved during the March school board meeting.

Byars said that offering the $500 checks to faculty members was necessary because of the unforeseen costs associated with opening schools last fall.

Many teachers and administrators in the system purchased cleaning supplies used in their classrooms at their own expense.

“We received funds from CARES one and two, and we have three coming in, but I asked our school board if we could use some of the money in this way. They agreed,” he said. “We know our staff and faculty have had to put resources from their own pockets. So, we are happy to give each staff and faculty member $500 before spring break.”

Georgia gun rights bill: The surprise was what didn’t happen

The Georgia House’s last-day inaction on a contentious gun rights bill took many by surprise.

That included opponents of House Bill 218 such as state Sen. Michelle Au. The Johns Creek Democrat not only opposed the gun rights expansion, but sponsored her own legislation on background checks and waiting periods for gun buyers. Her proposals didn’t get any traction in the Republican-dominated General Assembly.

Au told GHN on Thursday that she was “surprised in a good way’’ by House Speaker David Ralston’s comments, after the legislative session ended, about how he let the gun rights bill die by not bringing it up for a vote Wednesday night.

Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican, said that recent mass shootings in the United States, including a killing spree targeting spas in metro Atlanta on March 16, played a factor in his decision not to call up House Bill 218 for a vote.

“Frankly, I thought we needed to be very, very sensitive to any gun legislation,’’ he told reporters. “We’re less than two weeks out from two major mass killings. That heightens my level of sensitivity to that.’’

Au, a physician, said Ralston’s comments show “a remarkable amount of insight, especially in a state where the (gun rights) conversation is so entrenched. These conversations (about guns) can move the needle on the issue just a little bit.”

Ralston said that he had not had a chance to analyze all the gun rights bill’s provisions and their potential impact.

House Bill 218 would have required Georgia to recognize other states’ concealed weapons permits, and would have prevented a governor from taking away ammunition, other weapons like crossbows, and reloading equipment such as speedloaders or magazines, during a state of emergency.

The bill also would have required local governments to hold auctions at least every 12 months to sell off weapons that had come into the possession of authorities. In addition, it would have allowed probate courts, which handle gun-carry permits at the county level, to accept applications for them by online methods or by mail. And the measure would bar local governments from closing or limiting the operations of shooting ranges.

Sponsored by a Cherokee County gun rights stalwart, GOP Rep. Mandi Ballinger, the legislation moved through the House and then the Senate, where it was supported by Gov. Brian Kemp’s floor leader, Bo Hatchett, a Cornelia Republican. But because it was amended in the Senate before passing there, the bill needed a final OK from the House. On Wednesday evening, however, House Bill 218 was never brought up for a vote.

Among those reacting with surprise to the final result on the bill was a strong supporter of the legislation: Jerry Henry of Georgia Carry, a prominent guns rights organization.

“We’re just totally disappointed in the Republican leadership of the House,” Henry told GHN.

“I was surprised and then I wasn’t — it’s what they’ve done to us for the past four years,’’ he said. “We thought it would go through — we were told all along that it would — there was every indication it would go through.”

Henry said Ballinger and other bill supporters were standing in front of Ralston at the end of the night, trying to get him to take up the bill.

“The good news for the speaker is he won’t have to waste time asking for an endorsement (from the gun rights group) in the next round.” Henry said, adding that such an endorsement wouldn’t come. “The NRA is upset as well.’’

Ralston said Wednesday about the bill’s inability to get final approval: “I’ll take any criticism that comes and we’ll deal with it. There’s always another day to talk about these things.’’

Politics and philosophies

Au, a Chinese-American, warned the day before the spa shootings in Acworth and Atlanta about violence against Asian-Americans, based on several highly publicized incidents around the nation. Six of the eight people killed in the Georgia shootings were Asian women.

She said before the Senate took up bills last week that “gun safety should not be a partisan issue. Gun safety is a public health issue.”

The issue of guns is “unnecessarily politicized,” Au told GHN. Not all gun violence involves mass shootings, she said. “There are other things like suicide, domestic abuse, crime.’’

From a public health point of view, she said, a state can take small steps along with strategies to increase gun safety. A heavier lift would be needed, she said, for proposals to impose waiting periods for gun purchases. The requirement to wait, she said, provides a cooling-off interval for people feeling the impulse to commit acts of violence, such as suicide, revenge attacks and domestic violence.

Au said her plan is to work with community groups to get more public support behind her bills. Calling representatives really does work, she added. “We notice when we have a huge volume of calls about one issue. 2022 is an election year.”

Floyd County Schools announces in-person graduation schedule at all four high schools

The Floyd County Schools senior classes of 2021 will have their own graduation ceremonies in person at their respective high schools.

Superintendent Glenn White made the announcement at a board meeting back in March, but didn’t have the places confirmed until recently.

The ceremonies will take place using the most up to date COVID-19 guidelines at that time. White said they will treat the events similar to their sports events, without restricting crowd size.

“If we’re still at the point where masks are required, we’ll tell them you can’t get in without a mask and follow the guidelines from (Department of Public Health),” White said.

The ceremonies will be at the high school football fields as follows:

♦ Thursday, May 27 at 7 p.m. — Coosa High High School

♦ Friday, May 28 at 7 p.m. — Pepperell High School

♦ Saturday, May 29th at 9 a.m. — Model High School

♦ Saturday, May 29th at 7 p.m. — Armuchee High School

If it rains or bad weather comes through, the events will be moved inside to the respective schools’ gyms.

“We’ll have a tentative set-up in the gym and put paper on the floor so we don’t scar the floor up and be prepared,” White said.

They will also be hosting in-person Baccalaureate ceremonies as well, but the dates haven’t been confirmed yet.

Unemployment dropping in Rome; NWGa indicators heading back to prepandemic levels

The latest report from the Georgia Department of Labor shows Rome’s unemployment rate dipped 0.6% to 4.1% in February.

Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said Rome saw positive month-over-month measures for every key indicator.

The local jobless rate was 3.7% a year ago, before the pandemic set in.

This year, the local workforce grew by 586, to 44,462 individuals, from January to February. That number is a combination of Floyd County residents who are on a payroll and the number of people who are registered with the state and actively looking for a job.

The number of Floyd County residents with jobs increased by 841 over the month, but is down by 211 when compared to the same time a year ago.

The number of first-time claims for unemployment assistance filed by Floyd County residents dropped by 39.2% from January to February.

Still, 994 Floyd County workers submitted an initial claim in February. Those are new job losses — people who had not filed an unemployment claim with the state during the preceding 12 months.

Butler, however, focused on the comparison with 2020 in Floyd County and Georgia’s other Metropolitan Statistical Areas.

“February’s numbers are a strong indication the state is getting back to where it was prior to the pandemic,” he said in a press release.

“Not only are we seeing growth for nearly every indicator in each MSA, but we are seeing the momentum start to switch in our favor. The unemployment rates are drastically dropping, the labor force numbers are gearing up, and most importantly, we are seeing initial claims decrease in almost every MSA.”

Rome-based companies ended February with 40,600 jobs. That was up by 300 from January to February, although still significantly lower by some 1,100 from the same time last year.

The unemployment rate across the 15-county Northwest Georgia region dropped from 4.3% in January to 3.7% in February. Catoosa County reported the lowest rate, at 2.6%, while Chattooga County had the highest rate across the region in February, at 5.3%.

Employ Georgia, the GDOL’s online job listing service at employgeorgia.com, showed about 580 active job postings in metro Rome for February.