2016 Voter Guide

Senator Elena Parent
The Parent Press

We are nearing the end of the 2016 Presidential election campaign. I am sure most of you think it can't come soon enough. Who could have predicted how utterly bizarre and destructive this campaign season has been?!

It will surprise none of you that I am voting for and supporting Hillary Clinton to be our 45th President. In my opinion, Trump is unqualified, uninformed, and not an acceptable person to further America's interests at home or abroad or to serve as a role model for America's children. There is simply no contest here.

Elections Information

Click here to access your My Voter Page from the Secretary of State's office to view your polling location and sample ballots.

Beat the lines — Early voting begins on October 17 and runs until November 4th. (For complete information click here.)

Early voting locations convenient to District 42 opening October 17:

North DeKalb: Tucker Recreation Center, 4898 LaVista Road. Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Central DeKalb: The Voter Registration and Elections Office (which has designated areas for seniors and disabled residents), 4380 Memorial Drive, Suite 300, Decatur. Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

South DeKalb: The Gallery at South DeKalb Mall, 2801 Candler Road, Decatur. Open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Additional Early Voting Locations Opening October 31, 7 am until 7 pm on weekdays:

Chamblee: Chamblee Civic Center, 3540 Broad Street

Atlanta: Coan Recreation Center, 1530 Woodbine Avenue SE

Brookhaven: City Hall, 4362 Peachtree Road NE

Decatur: Clark Harrison building, 330 W. Ponce de Leon Ave.

Tucker: Tucker Recreation Center, 4898 LaVista Road. Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Sunday voting: On October 30, noon to 5 p.m., at Memorial Drive Voter Registration & Elections Office, Chamblee Civic Center and Gallery at South DeKalb Mall (addresses above)

Constitutional Amendments Voter Guide

There are 4 Constitutional Amendments on the ballot this fall. Each will appear with a preamble, which is written by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker.

Below, I provide an explanation of all of them and tell you how I plan to vote.

Amendment One: the Opportunity School District, which allows the State to take over low-performing schools

BALLOT PREAMBLE: Shall the Georgia Constitution be amended to provide greater flexibility and state accountability to fix failing schools through increasing community involvement?

BALLOT QUESTION: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?

Summary: Amendment 1 is a constitutional amendment that would allow the General Assembly to authorize the establishment of an Opportunity School District (OSD) to provide for state interventions for low-performing schools.

Governance: The OSD Superintendent, who is appointed by the Governor, is granted broad power and flexibility to waive State BoE rules, regulations, policies, and procedures for OSD schools with the ultimate goal of improving academic performance. The OSD Superintendent has the authority to select, approve, or remove the school principal for schools in the opportunity district and governing board members for opportunity which become OSD charters.

Structure: The proposal authorizes the OSD to take over up to 20 schools a year with a cap of 100 schools total. OSD schools will remain in the district for at least five years but no more than 10. If an opportunity school or OSD charter earns above an F on the relevant criteria for three consecutive years, the school will be removed from the OSD or no longer subject to OSD oversight.

Powers: The OSD director can take one of four steps regarding a struggling school: (1) direct management, (2) shared governance, (3) conversion to a charter school or (4) closure. Any teacher who is not hired on at their school post-OSD takeover remains an employee of the local school district and the district may determine whether or not to keep employing the teacher.

Elena's Opinion:

I voted against the Opportunity School District and plan to vote no. While the goal of improving failing schools is laudable and I believe that Governor Deal is well-intentioned, the appointment of a superintendent who is unaccountable to taxpayers and parents is not a recipe for success. There is no specific plan delineated as to how the failing schools would be turned around. This, when coupled with the lack of accountability, is worrisome. We do need to turn around our struggling schools, but state leaders should be following proven, research-based methods of doing so rather than chasing the "state-takeover" fad that has taken root in some nearby states. There are no quick fixes and this "solution" does not provide a long-term plan for improving education in Georgia for all our kids, which is what we need to do.

There are theoretically some pros. There is a chance good reforms could emerge at the school level. These could be positive. We just don't know, because there is no specific plan for voters to count on. (In the other extreme, there is no prohibition on the use of for-profit charter managers, for example.)

The biggest pro that I see is that the threat of state takeover and the loss of associated local school dollars could motivate some local school boards to implement reforms that have not occurred due to lack of motivation or politics. However, I believe that there are other, better ways to accomplish that goal. To begin with, current law permits the State School Superintendent to exercise several of these powers.

This is a complex issue. For those who want more information, following are links to several articles:

An op-ed I wrote in Reporter Newspapers explaining my opposition to the OSD.

AJC: 7 Things to Know about Gov. Deal's Opportunity School District

Report from pastor who attended OSD meeting with Gov. Deal

Info from group supporting OSD

Amendment Two: Safe Harbor

Creates a dedicated source of state funding on behalf of victims of human trafficking to support housing, counseling and medical treatment

BALLOT QUESTION: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow additional penalties for criminal cases in which a person is adjudged guilty of keeping a place of prostitution, pimping, pandering, pandering by compulsion, solicitation of sodomy, masturbation for hire, trafficking of persons for sexual servitude, or sexual exploitation of children and to allow assessments on adult entertainment establishments to fund the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children Fund to pay for care and rehabilitative and social services for individuals in this state who have been or may be sexually exploited?

Summary: Amendment 2 establishes a new Safe Harbor for the Sexually Exploited Children Fund, receiving money through $2,500 fines on convicted traffickers and an annual fee of $5,000 or 1% of annual gross revenue, whichever is greater, on adult entertainment establishments. Funds are then used to provide housing, mental care, education, job training, legal help, and child care to the victims. Convicted traffickers will also be listed on the state sex offender website.

Elena's Opinion:

I voted for Safe Harbor and plan to vote yes. Our city and state see some of the highest levels of human trafficking in the country. I agree with the goal of ensuring that victims of child sex trafficking get the needed counseling, medical care, education, and other support services they need to live happy and healthy lives - and without raising taxes. Some feel that the fee on the adult entertainment venues is punitive or unconstitutional, but I feel that the good in this amendment strongly outweighs the bad.

Amendment Three - Judicial Qualifications Commission

BALLOT PREAMBLE: Shall the Georgia Constitution be amended to reform and re-establish the Judicial Qualifications Commission and provide for its composition, governance, and powers?

BALLOT QUESTION: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to abolish the existing Judicial Qualifications Commission; require the General Assembly to create and provide by general law for the composition, manner of appointment, and governance of a new Judicial Qualifications Commission, with such commission having the power to discipline, remove, and cause involuntary retirement of judges; require the Judicial Qualifications Commission to have procedures that provide for due process of law and review by the Supreme Court of its advisory opinions; and allow the Judicial Qualifications Commission to be open to the public in some manner?

Summary: Under current law, the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) is comprised of two judges selected by the Georgia Supreme Court, three lawyers appointed by the State Bar of Georgia and two citizens appointed by the Governor. The proposed constitutional amendment would change the appointment powers: appointments would be made by the Speaker of the House, the Lieutenant Governor and the Governor. The public will now be denied access to a judge's disciplinary hearing befo