News for Sunday, January 28, 2007

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Insurance bill launches debate

ATLANTA - Sen. Judson Hill's lawmaker colleagues, insurance industry officials and health policy experts are praising him for putting much-needed health insurance reform on the Legislature's plate this winter.

But no one, even Hill himself, expects the wide-ranging 60-page bill the Marietta Republican introduced last week to pass in anything near its current form.

"You can eat an apple one bite at a time,'' said Sen. Ralph Hudgens, R-Comer, chairman of the Senate Insurance and Labor Committee, which will begin considering the bill this week.

"But if you put the whole apple in your mouth, you're probably going to get strangled.''

The comprehensive measure is the product of a study committee that Hill chaired last year to look for ways to reduce the ranks of Georgia's 1.7 million uninsured by transforming the way health insurance is delivered.

His bill promises a major shakeup that would begin moving away from the employer-based insurance system that has been the status quo in Georgia and the rest of the nation since World War II.

"Tweaks don't work,'' he said. "What we've done for years is tweak the system. ... If we want to continue to do the same thing and expect a different result, we're foolish.''

Wrong solution

But critics say the bill wouldn't work because the tax incentives at its heart wouldn't help the low-income Georgians who make up a huge segment of the uninsured population.

"A tax break isn't going to help a family of four with an income of $25,000,'' said Alan Essig, executive director of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, which released a report last week critical of the "health savings accounts'' Hill's bill would encourage. "It's not the solution for the problem that we have.''

But Hill said his proposal would help the largest growing group of uninsured Georgians, those making more than $60,000 a year.

It's a group most people don't associate with being uninsured. Many are temporarily uninsured because they're between jobs, Hill said.

That's why the crux of the bill is aimed at disconnecting health insurance from employment.

Under the legislation, people who make more than $60,000 a year would be allowed to deduct their medical expenses and claim a personal exemption on their state income taxes if they have at least minimum health coverage or if they post a bond comparable to that level of coverage.

Health-savings accounts, which consumers would buy on their own rather than through work, typically offer high deductibles in exchange for lower premiums.

"A lot of uninsured Georgians are people who can afford insurance but choose not to,'' said state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine.

"They'd rather take their chances, and if they do run up a big medical bill, they'll take bankruptcy. ... He's found a way for these people to get insurance.''

Coverage expanded

Glenn Landers, senior research associate at Georgia State University's Health Policy Center, praised a provision in the bill that would let parents cover their children as dependents until they reach age 27.

He said young adults are another group that tend to be uninsured in large numbers.

"That group is commonly called the 'young invincibles,''' Landers said. "They believe nothing's going to happen to them.''

But Linda Lowe, an Atlanta-based consumer health advocate, said offering low-cost, high-deductible health savings accounts to young adults and high wage earners would siphon them off from traditional group plans, driving up premiums for the rest of the population.

"Health insurance is like fire protection or building a road,'' she said. "It's something we need to treat as a mutual obligation, not an individual obligation. ... You spread the risk across the entire population.''

The one argument for the bill that all sides seem to agree on, from enthusiastic supporters to staunch critics, is the need to give consumers more information on competing health insurance plans. To help them make informed choices, the legislation would establish a Web site containing prices for medical services and prescriptions.

Hudgens said that "transparency'' element of the bill probably will be among the two or three provisions his committee will focus on as it takes up the measure.

Even if the rest of the bill never gets out of Hudgens' committee this year, Hill said he at least will have started a debate that needs to happen.

Others agree.

"He is taking all these different ideas that people talk about theoretically and putting it into legislation to force the issue,'' Oxendine said. "I commend him for doing that.''

School sends 'Hearts from Home'

If some American soldiers don't know how much their bravery is appreciated, letters from students at Chattahoochee Elementary School will soon let them know.

Comments sought on changes to curriculum

SUWANEE - As Gwinnett County Public Schools integrates the new state curriculum into its own curriculum, community members, parents and staff are invited to submit feedback to the school system.

Creekland students learn how to overcome bullying

LAWRENCEVILLE - Ten Creekland Middle School students stood in a circle, with their eyes closed, as Helen Marshall placed a round sticker on each of their foreheads.

Duluth legislator takes on Sunday liquor sales

Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, said it's not his job to pronounce bills introduced into the Senate dead for the year.

But the chairman of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee may effectively have killed legislation allowing Georgia voters to decide whether to legalize Sunday sales of beer and wine in their communities.

Shafer introduced a resolution this week to create a Senate committee following this winter's legislative session that would conduct a general study of existing state laws governing the sale of alcoholic beverages and make recommendations by the end of the year.

Lawmakers often take the study committee route when they would rather take up a proposed bill later, if at all, than deal with it immediately.

A local-option Sunday sales bill introduced last week has been referred to Shafer's committee.

But on Wednesday, he said the measure is "flawed'' because it would allow beer and wine to be sold on Sundays but not hard liquor.

The bill would be a boon to supermarkets and convenience stores, which aren't allowed to sell hard liquor, but wouldn't do much for package stores that rely primarily on liquor sales.

"It doesn't legalize the sale of alcohol on Sunday, only certain types of alcohol sold in certain locations,'' Shafer said. "It raises questions of unfair trade and competition.''

Shafer said it also would be a waste of the Senate's time to take up the bill this year because Gov. Sonny Perdue, who doesn't drink, has hinted that he would veto it if it reaches his desk.

Baby boy Martin

Congratulations go out this week to Lawrenceville Councilman P.K. Martin.

Meadowcreek beats Milton for 12th straight win

NORCROSS - Meadowcreek can shoot and like most North Fulton schools, so can Milton.

Engagement Announcements

Morton - Hoffer

Mr. and Mrs. Stephen R. Morton of Snellville announce the engagement of their daughter, Stephanie Laura Morton of Snellville, to Justin Eugene Hoffer of Long Beach, Calif., son of Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Hoffer of Apple River, Ill. and Mr. and Mrs. Michael McMillan of Fayetteville, N.C.

Balanced wine reviews help lend credibility

Most of the e-mail I receive from readers starts out polite and cordial.

Wedding Announcements

Anderson - Mitchell

Amy Elizabeth Anderson and John Todd Mitchell were married on Sept. 30 at The Carlyle House in Norcross. The Rev. Tony Griffin officiated the ceremony.

House built by Barrow deputies given to family

AUBURN - The family of a disabled former volunteer firefighter moved into a new home Friday, built on donations and labor of Barrow County sheriff's deputies.

'Self Storage' author talks about buying unopened boxes

In the next few weeks, author Gayle Brandeis will be buying boxes without knowing what's inside them. She plans to purchase these boxes at self-storage auctions, where people's stored possessions are sold when they don't pay their bills.

Road Closures

n Arnold Road at U.S. Highway 29 will require intermittent lane closures from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through February for road widening and alignment improvements.

All the Buzz

Hollywood only honors liberal films

And the winner is - Al Gore for "An Inconvenient Truth"!

Trade in snow for the sandy beaches of the Bahamas

Growing up in Missouri, I generally experienced a white Christmas. When I moved to Georgia five years ago, I thought white Christmases were things of the past. This past Christmas my family switched the snow for the white sand beaches of the Caribbean.

Program aims to keep kids out of trouble

NORCROSS - The basketball games are just a lure.

Super Bowl ads return to comedy

NEW YORK - There's one place where you can find both FedEx, the overnight package delivery service, and ''Fed-Ex,'' or Kevin Federline, the future ex-husband of pop diva Britney Spears. Both will be making appearances in Super Bowl ads, the highest-profile advertising event of the year.

Heat up any meal with a sampling of soup

When she was a child growing up in Ohio, Lindsay Prehm can recall her dad whipping up a pot of one of his signature soups every Sunday. Be it chili, vegetable or beef, the aroma of home-cooked soup on a cold winter day filled the home with warmth.

"It got cold in Ohio, so my dad's soup was like a perfect meal," said Prehm, a clinical dietitian at Emory Eastside Medical Center. "Soup is a great comfort food, especially this time of year, when it's cold. Or, supposed to be cold."

OBITUARIES

BUFORD

BOWMAN, JOAN

Joan Louise Bowman, age 79, of Buford, GA, passed away January 27, 2007. Arrangements by Wages & Sons Gwinnett Chapel, 1031 Lawrenceville Highway, Lawrenceville, GA 30045, 770-277-4550.*

SKELTON, CHARLES

Charles "Chuckie" Skelton, age 54 of Buford, died Friday, January 26, 2007. Funeral Service will be held 3 P.M. Sunday, January 28 in the Chapel of Tapp/Tim Stewart Funeral Home with Dr. Jim Ferguson officiating. Interment will follow at Broadlawn Memorial Gardens. Mr. Skelton is survived by son and daughter-in-law, Bart and Juli Skelton, and daughter, Holly Skelton, all of Cleveland, GA; Brother and sister-in-law, Michael and Betty Skelton; and sister, Carolyn Pealock, all of Buford. He is also survived by grandson, Jackson Bailey Earwood; nephews, Todd and Staci Pealock, Brian "Woody" Pealock, and Kerry and Shannon Skelton. Mr. Skelton was born in Gwinnett County and retired from he Gwinnett County Water Department. The family is requesting flowers or donations to Hospice Atlanta, 1244 Park Vista Drive, Atlanta, GA 30319, 404-869-3000. Tapp/Tim Stewart Funeral Home and Crematory, 201 Morningside Drive, Buford, Georgia 30518, 770-945-9345. Please sign online guest registry at www.stewartfh.com.

LAWRENCEVILLE

SULLIVAN, JAMES

James Edward Sullivan, age 70, of Lawrenceville, GA, passed away January 26, 2007. Arrangements by Wages & Sons Gwinnett Chapel, 1031 Lawrenceville Highway, Lawrenceville, GA 30045, 770-277-4550.*

SNELLVILLE

CLOWER, DORA

Mrs. Dora Lee Moon Clower, age 97, of Snellville, GA, died January 26, 2007. She is survived by her Grandchildren, Tommy and Chris Clower of Lawrenceville, Cindy and Don Landress of Snellville, and Sandra Davis of South Carolina; several nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews. Mrs. Clower, a loving wife, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, was a member of Snellville First United Methodist Church. She was preceded in death by her Husband of 41 years, Hyatt Clower and her Son and Daughter-in-law, Thomas Dwayne and Harriette Clower. Funeral services will be held Monday, January 29, 2007 at 2 pm at Snellville First United Methodist Church. Interment Snellville Historical Cemetery. The family will receive friends Sunday from 2 until 5 pm at the funeral home. Those desiring may make donations to The Snellville First United Methodist Church Building Fund in memory of Dora Lee Moon Clower. Tom M. Wages Funeral Service, Inc., Snellville Chapel, 770-979-3200, www.wagesfuneralhome.com .

SUGAR HILL

TAYLOR, HERBERT

Mr. Herbert (Bill) Taylor, age 83, of Sugar Hill, GA, passed away on Saturday, January 27, 2007. He was preceded in death by his parents, Ernest and Irene Rowe Taylor, and sister, Edna Fraser. He is survived by his: Wife of 57 years: Mrs. Geneva Chatham Taylor, Sugar Hill, GA; Daughters and Sons-in-Law: Joan Taylor Warren and husband, Robert, Sugar Hill, GA, Susan Taylor English and husband, Phil, Sugar Hill, GA; Grandchildren: Zach English, Logan English, Chad English, Joshua Warren, Emilie Warren; Sister: Mrs. Gertrude Davis, Buford, GA; Brother: Mr. James Taylor, Buford, GA; Brothers-in-Law and Sisters-in-Law: W. A. and Shirley Fraser, Flowery Branch, GA, Rev. and Mrs. Robert (Ruth) Peevy, Hoschton, GA; Sisters-in-Law: Grace Stephens, Buford, GA, Elizabeth Brogdon, Gainesville, GA; Brother-in-Law: Henry Chatham, Buford, GA; Several Nieces, Nephews and Cousins. Mr. Taylor was born in Gwinnett County, GA on November 27, 1923. He was a World War II Army veteran. He retired from Wrigley Chewing Gum Factory in Flowery Branch, GA after 19 years of service. He was a member of the Old Suwanee Baptist Church, Buford, GA. Funeral services will be held on Monday, January 29, 2007 at 2:00 p.m. in the Chapel of Flanigan Funeral Home with Rev. Tim Campbell and Rev. McHoyt Moore officiating. Interment will be in Old Suwanee Baptist Church Cemetery, Buford, GA. The family will receive friends at the funeral home on Sunday from 12:00 Noon until 9:00 p.m. Arrangements by Junior E. Flanigan of Flanigan Funeral Home and Crematory, Buford, GA, 770-932-1133, www.flaniganfuneralhome.com.

Williams finding his way in NBA

ATLANTA - Maybe this is his time.

Dancing with a purpose

Schools celebrate student diversity

LAWRENCEVILLE - At a time when several Gwinnett County schools have students who hail from more than 50 different countries, diversity is celebrated throughout the year, school system officials say.

A place for Gwinnett readers to share their prized recipes and discover new ones

In January, everyone's looking for new ideas for flavorful recipes with less fat and fewer calories to help keep those new year's resolutions.

Corps gets lake proposalLake Lanier Association requests level be raised

LAWRENCEVILLE - A proposal to raise Lake Lanier's water level by

2 feet has been received by the Army Corps of Engineers and will be considered with other public comments.

Ten Commandments for sale with other documents

WINDER - The organization that helped fund Barrow County's fight against a federal lawsuit over the Ten Commandments display in its county courthouse is offering a display that complies with state law.

The collection of nine historic documents that state law requires for a Foundations of American Law and Government Display is available from Ten Commandments-Georgia Inc., a nonprofit ministry. Officials for the organization suggest a donation of $895 for all nine documents framed or $125 each.

Gwinnett Gab

Teachers can see movie for free

•LAWRENCEVILLE - Teachers can see "Freedom Writers" for free at any AMC theater until Feb. 1.

Political finger-pointing threatens PeachCare program

Georgia's popular PeachCare for Kids is the subject of a tug of war between Congress and the General Assembly, with 270,000 children caught in the middle.

Sometime in March, unless something gives in what has become a battle of wills between state and federal politicians, the decade-old program that provides health insurance to children of working families could run out of money.

And, despite all of the pronouncements that the needs of children should come first, both sides are worried that the deadline won't be met.

At stake is a looming $131 million shortfall in federal funds, the result of what state health officials say is a flawed formula for allocating the money among the states.

The formula is based on how many children within a given state are uninsured. Thus, states that are successful at bringing children into the program receive less money than those that don't fare as well and, as a consequence, have large numbers of uninsured kids.

Georgia boasts the State Children's Health Insurance Program's fourth-largest enrollment, impressive for a state with the ninth-largest overall population.

"We get penalized for that under the current allocation,'' said state Rep. Mickey Channell, R-Greensboro, chairman of the House budget subcommittee with jurisdiction over health spending. "Most people recognize that's got to be fixed.''

Indeed, "most people'' appears to include members of Congress, who can see the logic of the argument.

But any fixing of the formula would be months away as part of legislation to reauthorize the program on its 10th anniversary.

Georgia and 16 other states facing shortfalls brought on by the flawed formula need more immediate action.

Toward that end, Channell was part of a bipartisan delegation of state lawmakers that traveled to Washington this month to enlist the aid of Georgia's congressional delegation and members of Congress from other states with influential positions on committees and subcommittees with jurisdiction over the issue.

Then last week, Gov. Sonny Perdue sent a letter to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asking for Congress to take the lead in finding a timely solution.

But U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, who helped organize the meeting, said a number of "challenges'' lie in the way of a quick fix.

For one thing, he said, Congress already is pouring billions of dollars into supporting the war in Iraq, the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and the overall war on terror.

Bishop also cited House rules adopted this month by the new Democratic majority, which include a "pay as you go'' provision requiring that new spending proposals be accompanied either by additional revenue or equivalent spending cuts.

"We've got to find a means to pay the additional cost,'' he said.

But state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, another Georgia lawmaker who made the trip to Washington, said there's also some partisan politics involved in the hesitation among congressional Democrats to ride to the rescue of Georgia and the other states.

Smyre, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus in the General Assembly, said Democrats in Washington blame Republicans for approving the flawed funding formula back when the GOP ran Congress.

"They expressed to us that this was not an issue created by the majority party,'' he said.

With so many hurdles to overcome, Bishop predicted that congressional action on Georgia's request isn't immediately forthcoming.

He said that while Congress is working toward a solution, the state should be willing to step into the breach and provide a temporary fix. One possibility would be raising the income eligibility requirements for Medicaid to cover PeachCare families, he said.

In an indirect slap at some of Republican Perdue's new spending initiatives, Bishop argued that the state is capable of bailing out the program if the governor and legislature choose to do so.

"When your budget reflects more allocation of green space and building more boat ramps, it raises questions about what your priorities are,'' Bishop said.

But Channell said it's not the state's fault that PeachCare is getting shortchanged by the federal government. He said Congress has the power to redistribute surplus funds that have piled up in states that aren't doing as good a job running the program as Georgia.

"Texas is sitting on $1 billion in unused allocations,'' he said. "To me, it's a simplistic solution.''

Channell and Smyre left Washington with a different feel for how the issue is likely to play out.

"We didn't get a lot of encouragement,'' Channell said.

Smyre was more upbeat.

"With the attention the governor and (Legislature) are placing on it, I'm hopeful,'' he said.

E-mail Dave Williams at dave.williams@gwinnettdailypost.com.Have any thoughts about this column? Share them with us at letters@gwinnettdailypost.com. Letters should be no more than 200 words and are subject to approval by the publisher. Letters may be edited for style and space requirements. Please sign your name and provide an address and a daytime telephone number. Address letters for publication to: Letters to the Editor, Gwinnett Daily Post, P.O. Box 603, Lawrenceville, GA 30046-0603. The fax number is 770-339-8081.

Literary Calendar

Best in Books

•What: Jefferson Bass, the writing team of Jon Jefferson and Bill Bass, will discuss their books, "Flesh and Bone" (William Morrow, $24.95) and "Carved in Bone" (Harper, $7.99).

•When: 7 p.m. Thursday

•Where: The Suwanee branch of the Gwinnett County Public Library, 361 Main St. in Suwanee.

Business Briefs

Payne named marketing director at Ascot Realty

ATLANTA - Amanda Payne recently became the marketing director at Ascot Realty, which sells new homes in 15 communities in Gwinnett, DeKalb and Barrow counties.

Birth Announcements

Sept. 27

Ainsley Marie Stewart was born Sept. 27, 2006 to Kelly Katherine Tierney Stewart and Russell Foster Stewart of Dacula. She weighed 9 lbs., 2 oz. and was 211⁄2 inches long.

Oct. 25

Sarah Hossain was born on Oct. 25, 2006, to Nurjahan Hossain and Syed Akram Hossain of Snellville. She weighed 6 lbs., 7 oz. and was 181⁄2 inches long.

Improvement districts take next steps in creating brand for areas

SNELLVILLE - It's all about rebirth.

The state we're in

Growth at heart of State of the County address

Two years into his term as chairman of the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners, Chairman Charles Bannister's vision for Georgia's second-largest county is still unfolding. He's interested in forging a new future for the growing and diverse population and landscape. "By keeping all parts of the county attractive and up-to-date, we can control our own destiny," Bannister said. "We can draw new investments in housing. We can attract new employers and corporate headquarters with high-paying jobs. We can build on the strength of our diversity and offer a multitude of new shopping, dining and entertainment opportunities. Some say we're overgrown and overdeveloped, but I believe the best is yet to come." Here are some of the major issues Bannister addressed in Thursday's speech.

Gator park, Fountain of Youth should top to-do list for Fla. trip

Founded in 1565, St. Augustine, Fla. is the oldest continually occupied city in the United States. Though history is important here, the city offers plenty to entertain its present-day visitors. With attractions that combine fun and education, St. Augustine makes an ideal destination for families.

The Week That Was

A look back at the Gwinnett Daily Post's top stories of the week.

Kroger, Komen team for breast cancer research

Are you aware of an event or project that benefits our community? Contact Anna Ferguson at 770-963-9205 ext. 1308 or anna.ferguson@gwinnettdailypost.com.

Prep roundup: GAC's Wood scores 30 in win

NORCROSS - Taylor Wood had 30 points and 18 rebounds to help Greater Atlanta Christian push past Chestatee 80-75 Saturday night in boys basketball.

Brookwood girls make it four in a row

ATLANTA - Brookwood's girls swimmers didn't win the most races or set the most records on Saturday. North Gwinnett took care of that.

Gwinnett Democratic Party chief loses race for state post

ATLANTA - Georgia Democrats chose their first female chairman in three decades Saturday, electing former state Rep. Jane Kidd on the fourth ballot over Gwinnett County Democratic Chairman Mike Berlon and three others.

Mini-marathon raises money for children's hospital

SNELLVILLE - Students from three high schools participated in a mini-dance marathon at Brookwood High School on Saturday afternoon to raise money for a local hospital.

Parkview boys' reign continues at swim meet

ATLANTA - The favored boys team delivered on Saturday at the Gwinnett County Swimming and Diving Championships as Parkview emerged victorious at the Adamsville Natatorium.

Empathy is key to solving problems

To talk with Goran Matkovic, you'd never imagine he felt a need to find better ways of communicating without violence.

The soft-spoken computer repairman from Norcross quietly explained, "I do a lot of personal growth and exploration. Didn't someone say an unexplored life is not a life worth living?"

Clinton uses her time for politicking, not listening

When Lt. Gen. David Petraeus came before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week in open session, its members understandably had many questions for the new commander of American forces in Iraq.

Leaders eye funding for revitalizationCity officials aim for second chance at tax allocation districts

LAWRENCEVILLE - Revitalization leaders want a second chance at the funding mechanism that created Atlantic Station. But just two months after the measure failed at the ballot box, county commissioners aren't sure if the expense of a special election is worth it.

Somewhat silly supernatural books still entertain

Lately, I've been reading some books that even I can admit are a little ridiculous. Still, no matter how farfetched these stories may seem, I bought right into them.

Pigtails and Crewcuts salon offers haircuts, fun for kids

Staff Contributor

How would you like your child to enjoy getting a haircut so much that he cries when it's time to LEAVE?

That unusual scenario occurs frequently at Pigtails and Crewcuts, an upscale kids' hair salon that recently opened in Buford.

Coaches name outstanding seniors

At this week's county meet, the swimming and diving coaches selected a group of superb seniors to receive prestigious all-around awards.

New homeowners group forms

LAWRENCEVILLE - In the 1990s, the Gwinnett Homeowners Alliance was formed. It merged with another group, which later disbanded, to form Gwinnett Homeowners First.

School teaching: the mother of all professions

This past fall, my lovely wife Bonnie took her bachelor's in education back to the classroom after a 19-year hiatus.

That is, if raising four children can rightly be called a "hiatus." Maybe "sentence" is more like it.

Sports calendar

Athletics

Feb. 17: The Brookwood community plans to honor longtime Bronco athletic director and head football coach Dave Hunter with a celebration dinner on Feb. 17. All friends, colleagues and former players of Hunter are invited to attend the event, which will be at the Gwinnett Marriott on Pleasant Hill Road. For more information or to purchase tickets to the dinner, go www.brookwoodbroncos.org or contact Marc Cain at mcainbia@bbia.net.

A new look

Pay now or pay later

Most residents in Gwinnett County are unaware of the escalating costs associated with a lack of resources to address our health and human service needs. The expression "pay now or pay later" really illustrates when resources don't address community problems up front, then the building of jails and prisons become a huge drain on our government budget. Taxes will go up to cover these costs, while other less expensive programs must be cut to offset spiraling costs.

Creating wealth in Gwinnett

There will be 65,410 new jobs and more than $5.8 billion in new wealth created in Gwinnett by 2011. That's just one of the many goals set forth in the aggressive Partnership Gwinnett economic and community development strategy we're launching this year.