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State lawmakers talk first 2017 session plans
Tanner, Gooch share big issues
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Broadband Internet
Both Gooch and Tanner have been working for the past year to find solutions to broadband connectivity issues in rural Georgia. Their committee just recently had their last meeting and filed a report of recommendations.

Tanner said he feels certain there will be legislation on the broadband issue this year, and that one thing he has found through the study committee is how overlooked the problem is.
"We found that when we were speaking with representatives who represent metro areas and bigger communities, they didn't understand that this was a problem in Georgia," Tanner said.

Gun legislation
Tanner said he anticipates other legislation on guns, but that hasn't seen any drafts yet.
"There have been conversations about it- the Governor vetoed the campus carry bill, that may or may not come back up," Tanner said. "That's not a bill that I personally had introduced, and we haven't seen anything yet but that's always a topic of conversation is the issues around the second amendment and gun rights."

Boat titling
Boat titling is an issue that affects many who live in Dawsonville and in the Lake Lanier area, and is another bit of legislation that Tanner feels could be on the radar this session.

"Right now you register a boat, there is no title associated with a boat, which can be an issue when there is theft and that type of thing, tracking who the owner is if a boat is stolen or abandoned," Tanner said. "There are organizations that have been working for a number of years on legislation to bring about boat titling, like the Lake Lanier Home Owner's Association, so this hits close to home in the areas I represent."

Medical Cannabis
Tanner correctly anticipated that Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, will continue to push for medical marijuana to be grown in Georgia and available for all patients that need it.

Peake's previous bills would have allowed for cultivation of medical marijuana in Georgia, which is currently against federal law. Tanner described an impasse, wherein the state does not wish to violate federal law by not having a law in Georgia that would punish cultivation, but would still like for medical cannabis to become an easily obtainable, viable option for those that need it.

"We've encouraged the federal government to make changes that they need to make because we're concerned about getting our university system employees in a situation where they're violating federal law," Tanner said. "I think we need to work on all fronts to provide people the opportunity to have proven medical options available to them. If cannabis oil is something that works for someone, and their doctor feels that it is a viable option..."



Before the first session of the 154th general assembly began Monday local lawmakers discussed what they think will be the biggest and most important issues of 2017.

Members of the house and senate will have 40 days to present, discuss and vote on legislation that Gov. Nathan Deal will review and potentially sign in 2017.

Lawmakers prepped early for the whirlwind of committee meetings and legislation drafting, pre filing nearly 30 bills before the session even began.

Georgia State Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, and Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, both said that they are keen to begin advancing legislation on the topics that matter most to them.

For Tanner, facilitating education in the form of aiding failing schools, as well as finding better ways to track and mitigate the heroin and opioid epidemic in the state are his two main priorities.

Tanner's focus on education comes from a concern that, although schools in Dawson, Lumpkin and Forsyth are thriving, there are schools in the state that are failing, and most of them are elementary schools.

"I don't think anything we can do in the general assembly that will have more impact long-term on our state than trying to find a way to improve our K-12 education," Tanner said. "That is the number one thing we can do because we are talking about future generations and being able to provide high quality education is so important and the majority of the schools that are failing are elementary schools, which to me is more concerning, because if you're not reading on grade level by third grade, your chances of dropping out are tremendously higher."

The legislation that Tanner is planning won't be on the same scale that the doomed Opportunity School District amendment was. It won't require a constitutional amendment, won't take local tax dollars and wouldn't require building a new agency to carry it out.

Tanner said that there are outside factors that come to play in failing schools that the new legislation would try to address.

"One of the things that we're looking at is recognizing the external factors in place for why a school is failing, whether it is a highly illiterate population among the adults in the community, not a lot of job opportunities in that community, which results in high poverty, so we're also looking at how we can bring those external factors and how we as a state can focus our resources to help them with external factors also. We're working on it from very much a global perspective I think," Tanner said.

The Heroin/Opioid Epidemic
Another hot topic for Tanner is tracking and mitigating heroin and opioid overdoses in Georgia.
Tanner said that tracking patients who "doctor shop" could drastically mitigate the issue of people gaining access to excessive amounts of opioids.

"We're looking at making changes that may make it more difficult for doctors to overprescribe pain medication or to get pain medication that they don't need, or to doctor shop, which happens a lot of times where someone goes to multiple doctors without telling the other doctor and they're getting prescriptions for the same medication and they're going to multiple pharmacies," Tanner said.

There is currently a program set up where doctors can enter their patients' information for other doctors to see and cross-reference with their own patients, and where pharmacies can enter what prescriptions they are filling on a weekly basis. Tanner said that with only 25 percent of Georgia's doctors even registered to use the database, it is being vastly underutilized.

"Pharmacists only entering once a week, there is a lag time there," Tanner said. "That needs to be done more often I think. And the other thing is that there is no mandate on the doctor's prescribing oxycontin or these other types of drugs to check before they prescribe, so there is a lot of things that we're looking at in that arena."

There is also no good way to track overdoses in Georgia, which have become a widespread issue.

"We don't even know for certain how many overdoses we have in the state because there is no requirement that a drug overdose be reported to the chief medical examiner's office in the state," Tanner said. "That's important because if we know where the overdoses are occurring and we can track that in close to real time, we can put in resources, whether it is law enforcement, community services or nonprofit groups that are working to help people get off of drugs."

Gooch is more interested in the economics side of state legislature.

In a press release Friday, Gooch said that between the number of regulations, amount of government involvement and the length of time it takes to get a company up and running, small businesses in Georgia often find themselves struggling.

"Small businesses are the heart of Georgia's economy," Gooch said. "This session, the Senate Majority Caucus is looking to reduce these burdens on private businesses by fast-tracking professional licensing processes, conducting economic impact analysis before implementing new rules and eliminating nuisance taxes and fees that cost more to collect than they generate."
Gooch also wants to work to ensure that the overload of new jobs in Georgia is met by a workforce that is up to the task.

"Georgia has been ranked the No. 1 state in the country to do business by Site Selection Magazine four years running," Gooch said. "This is due to our favorable tax structure and other incentives luring new businesses to our state. However, raising the number of jobs in our state is only beneficial if we have a proper and educated workforce to fill those positions."

Gooch said that by partnering with Georgia's career and technical programs and in demand industries, he will work to encourage high schools to offer classes where students can gain skills and certifications that will prepare them for employment post-graduation.

"This will provide students with opportunities for employment and Georgia businesses with a skilled workforce," Gooch said.

Both legislators want to keep their public informed during the next month and a half as they introduce bills that could directly impact the people who voted for them.

Tanner has a meeting with constituents every Saturday that the assembly is in session.

The meetings are held on an alternating schedule, with one meeting in Dawson and the next in Dahlonega, then in Dawson again, and so on.

The next meeting will be at 9 a.m. Saturday at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame in Dawsonville. Breakfast will be provided.

"It's a way for citizens to voice their concerns and discuss what is important to them, as well as for me to update them on what is happening during the session," Tanner said.

Gooch said he thinks this year promises to be a session full of legislation designed to improve the lives of all Georgians.

"I am looking forward to working with my Senate colleagues to draft, vet and vote on legislation that will secure our state's position as a great place to live, work and play," Gooch said. "I am thankful to represent you and Senate District 51 under the Gold Dome for another year."