RABIES CONTROL

Since 1995, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has worked cooperatively with local and state government agencies in an effort to control rabies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 90% of rabies cases reported are found in wildlife. Raccoons and skunks account for the most reported cases, but bats, foxes, and coyotes can also spread the disease, even to humans and pets.

Raccoon rabies is found only in the eastern United States. A vaccination zone stretching from Maine to Alabama has been established to prevent the westward spread of the disease and to eventually eliminate this threat.

On Saturday, October 8, 2011, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and other agencies began distributing oral vaccine baits in targeted areas of Chattooga, Walker, Dade, Catoosa, and Whitfield counties. Bordering counties in Alabama and Tennessee are also involved. The baits are being dropped in remote areas from low flying planes and are hand distributed in most areas. The baiting is expected to be completed by October 18.

The vaccine baits are about the size of a matchbox and are coated with fishmeal flavoring to attract raccoons to swallow them. The baits are safe for more than 60 species of animals, including dogs and cats.

If you find a bait, leave it alone unless it is in an area where children or pets play. To move a bait, you should wear a glove or use a plastic bag and toss it into a wooded area or other raccoon habitat. Damaged baits should be bagged and placed in the trash. Wash any skin that came in contact with the baits with soap and water. If you have questions about these baits, call the Georgia Division of Public Health at 1-706-295-6650.

Since this project began several years ago, reported cases of rabies in our area have dropped significantly. Several counties to our east which are not yet in the target area have reported increased rabies cases in the last few years. Evidently, the program is working. The USDA and DNR plan is to gradually shift the treatment zone eastward until raccoon rabies has been eliminated all the way to the east coast.

TRANSPORTATION

Tuesday, I attended a ribbon cutting to mark the opening of a five mile strip of the Southwest Rome Bypass. This bypass lies mostly in the 11th District and when completed, will connect Highway 20 in Coosa with Highway 27 just below Georgia Highlands College. Eventually, it will connect to Interstate 75.

For several years, I have worked with local officials and the Georgia DOT to get a redlight placed at Dot Johnson Drive and Highway 27. Many citizens have expressed concerns about traffic turning toward the school as well as traffic going to the Harbin Dialysis Center. I have requested several traffic studies. None of these met federal guidelines.

Commissioner Winters and I have had several DOT staff up to veiw areas we believe to be trouble spots in the county. Just recently, we received word from Kent Sager, the District Engineer, that he will work with Commissioner Winters to get a light placed at the school and clinic intersection. This will especially be needed when more students are enrolled there.

PROGRAMS THAT WORK

YOUTH CHALLENGE

In June, I was honored to be asked to speak to the Youth Challenge Academy graduation class at Fort Stewart. Two hundred graduates were awarded a diploma. One graduating student was Zack Thomas of Summerville. Zack received a Leadership Award recognizing him for being one of the top ten cadets in the entire graduating class. He is the son of Wesley and Rebecca Thomas.

During the diploma presentation, we paused to recognize the 10,000th graduate of Georgia’s Youth Challenge Academy. Georgia has two Youth Challenge programs, one at Fort Stewart and one at Fort Gordon. First Lady Sandra Deal spoke at the Fort Gordon graduation in September and Governor Deal helped her present diplomas. I am sure they are more accustomed to shaking 200 hands in one standing than I am! It was rigorous but inspiring to see so many young people who had succeeded in developing their abilities and reaching life changing goals.

The Georgia Youth Challenge Academy is operated with federal funds and a small portion of state funds. The program is conducted by members of the Georgia National Guard. It is designed for 16 to 18 year old students who are at risk of dropping out or have dropped out of highschool. Youth Challenge is a 22 week residential phase where students are drilled military style with programs and courses designed to develope responsible citizenship, academic excellence, life skills, job skills, and leadership abilities. Upon graduation, each student is followed and mentored for one year. Most students already have job offers, plans to enter the military, or plans to pursue a college or technical degree by the time they finish the program.

Anyone interested in Youth Challenge can contact me for further information.

DAY REPORTING CENTERS

Georgia has 13 Day Reporting Centers funded by federal grants to the Georgia Department of Corrections which conducts the programs. The centers give judges an alternative sentencing option for many non violent offenders. When assigned to the center by a judge, the offender is allowed to live at home and continue his or her job. In return, they must report daily, attend required classes, complete hours of community service, and be tested for drugs. Counseling and job training are also provided.

This week, the Rome Day Reporting Center held graduation ceremonies for 47 graduates of the program. About 200 family members and friends of the graduates attended. Several class members spoke and told how the DRC program had helped them overcome addictions and get their life back on track. The 47 graduates had spent a total of 9,320 hours in required classes and volunteered 3,600 hours in community service.

Governor Deal has appointed a Criminal Justice Reform Commission to recommend changes in our legal and prison system. Hopefully, they will recommend more programs such as this to allow non-violent offenders to complete rehabilitation programs while working and being productive citizens and family members.

Rep. Reece is a member of the House Education Committee, Science and Technology Committee, State Institutions and Property Committee, and Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee. She is Vice Chairman of the House Rural Caucus and Secretary of the Working Families Caucus. She may be reached at 706-862-2657 or 404-656-7859 or barbara.reece@house.ga.gov