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Legislators meet with local business leaders

12/17/2018

The News and Farmer

Area legislators talked about their most recent accomplishments and their hopes for the coming session during Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce’s 19th Annual Legislative Breakfast sponsored by Jefferson Energy Cooperative in Wrens Friday.

Sen. Jesse Stone, Rep. Mack Jackson and Rep. Brian Prince all stood before area business leaders and local elected officials and talked about what they are doing to represent their local constituents.

They all talked about the recent special session in which they saw firsthand the devastation wrought on southwest Georgia’s agricultural industry by Hurricane Michael.

“I really didn’t realize how severe that devastation was until we went into that session and looked at what they were facing down there,” Jackson said.

Stone said the Legislature allocated $271 million to go towards the cleanup, replanting and to cover other losses.

Stone represents District 23, serves on the Appropriations Committee, Banking and Financial Institutions, Education and Youth, Ethics and is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

He said that during the special session they also ratified Gov. Nathan Deal’s executive order, issued after the last session, to roll back the state’s jet fuel tax for one year.

“We will be looking at airport needs around the state,” Stone said. “The jet fuel tax is a true user fee. Georgia has maintained a leadership position in transportation. We have the Savannah port, an excellent highway system and we also have the busiest airport in the world. We can’t assume that will continue to be (the case.) We need to invest where investment is needed.”

Stone went on to say that he feels that some of the most impactful bipartisan work he has been a part of has been in criminal justice reform.

“This had really helped save taxpayers and helped public safety in a myriad of ways,” Stone said. “The ideas that led to legislation came from a criminal justice reform council which met with experts and looked at the data and made recommendations which would usually be introduced through the governor’s office and come to the committee I chair in the senate, the judiciary committee. That committee is set to sunset (end), but we’re trying to see if there is interest in continuing it.”

He said he hopes the incoming governor will support more work in this vein.

Rep. Mack Jackson, from District 128, serves on the Appropriations Comittee, Legislative and Congressional Reappointment, Public Safety and Homeland Security, Rules, Small Business and Development, State Planning and Community Affairs.

“We are going into a session with a newly elected governor and we don’t know what his priorities will be until he gives us his state of the state address and sets his agenda for 2019, but Speaker Ralston created what is known as the Rural Development Council and we’ve been going around Georgia for the last two years looking at rural Georgia and the policies we could set to cause economic growth in rural Georgia,” Jackson said.

Last session, he said, several bills were passed on recommendation from the Rural Development Council (RDC).

Among the RDC supported projects were House Bill 735 which established an income tax credit for maintenance expenditures on shortline railroads.

“Georgia has about 535 miles of shortlines that are leased out to other companies,” Jackson said. “We found that those railroads are not being profitable and we needed to do something to help them to shore up the maintenance of those railroads.”

House Bill 769 increased the rural hospital tax credit from 60 percent to 100 percent with a cap of $60 million.

“We were able to raise that $60 million this year to benefit our rural hospitals,” Jackson said. “Jefferson County got their share. Washington County, in my district, got their share too.”

In 2019, he said, the RDC will recommend raising that tax credit ceiling from the current $60 million to $100 million.

“Also there are recommendations from the RDC to clarify the rules involving the donation process and what hospital expenditures are allowed to use these funds.”

House Bill 951 created the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation which will serve as a central information and research hub for rural leadership training located on the ABAC campus in Tifton.

Jackson said the committee spent a long time examining the barriers to broadband internet expansion across rural Georgia.

“Our rural areas have a density problem,” Jackson said. “They aren’t just going to string a fiber optic cables where no one is living.”

He believes that several broadband recommendations should come forward out of the next session.

“There has been a lot of discussion on the Certificate of Need (CON) for our rural hosptials,” Jackson said. “I don’t know if there will be a major overhaul or a full repeal on the CON moving forward. There’s been an idea discussed of replacing the CON with an accredidation and rigorous license system for health care providers.”

While the RDC was due to sunset this month, Jackson said the Speaker of the House told him they would be extending its life.

“We are very much interested in growth in rural Georgia and I want you to know we are listening to every concern,” Jackson said. “We are doing our best to create meaningful legislation that will create economic growth because that’s where we live and we want to see Georgians do well in rural Georgia.”

Rep. Brian Prince, from district 127, serves on the Appropriations Committee, Events, Veterans Affairs, Motor Vehicles, Special Rules and Transportation committees.

Prince said that he really appreciates all the calls from local leaders who tell him what issues are impacting their lives.

“You can see from our committee assignments we are all a part of appropriations, and for the youth who might not understand what that is, we give out the money,” he said. “We don’t freely give it of course, but we are in a position to be at the table and so Jefferson County is at the table when these decisions are being made. Very seldom do you get a whole delegation on appropriations.”

After taking questions from the audience, the legislators met with members of the Chamber’s 2018 Youth Leadership group.

 

https://www.augustachronicle.com/thenewsandfarmer


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