Three state legislators representing districts including Dawson County spoke last week at a Dawson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon and gave a wrapup of some of the highlights of the latest legislative session as well as some things to look forward to in the upcoming session.
Rep. Kevin Tanner, R- Dawsonville, said that one of the accomplishments of the session was the passage of the state budget, which though required by the state constitution, could have been the quickest vote on a balanced budget in the history of the Georgia General Assembly.
Tanner talked about four bills he worked hard to see passed, including HB 338, the First Priority Act, a bill to address failing schools in Georgia that was recently signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal.
"I can tell you that as hard as all of these organizations worked against the Opportunity School District, they took a neutral stance on [this legislation]," Tanner said. "Anyone who has been around public education knows if you can get those education community groups to take a neutral stance, that's a huge victory."
In addition Tanner sponsored HB 249, a bill to address the state's burgeoning opioid epidemic by cracking down on "doctor shopping" and improving the state's drug-monitoring program. That bill was signed by Deal on May 4.
Tanner also spoke about his first session as the chair of the transportation committee. For the future, Tanner said the state cannot continue to add new lanes and pave its way to ease traffic congestion in metro Atlanta.
"We have to look at mass transportation, we have to look at transit, we have to look at bus, rail, light rail, heavy rail...partnering with Uber and Lyft and other private services," Tanner said. "That's the next big issue we have to face, how are we going to create a regional structure for providing transit service."
House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said he felt a number of good measures were approved during the session.
Senate Bill 85, signed by Deal on May 8, provides a new framework for craft breweries and distilleries to sell their product directly to consumers in the place of production.
"Craft beer and spirits have come a long way from the days when certain individuals would run that product across these mountains up here," Ralston said. "This industry today is really made up of businesses that put people to work. They have created jobs and become a tourism engine in many towns across Georgia, such as right here in Dawsonville. I believe this means jobs and jobs mean opportunity."
Ralston also commended Tanner on his work with the First Priority Act, stating that he would be remiss if he didn't mention it.
"I cannot emphasize to you enough the importance of that legislation and what it will mean for the 90,000 Georgia children who currently have to attend chronically failing schools." Ralston said. "Education is one of those topics that typical politicians could be hesitant to tackle, because frankly it is an intense issue and the stakes are high. But Chairman Tanner put the future of Georgia's children first."
Ralston also mentioned the firefighter cancer insurance bill, HB 146, as a huge accomplishment for the session. The bill provides insurance for certain types of cancer for firefighters, whose jobs require work in hazardous conditions where they are exposed to carcinogens.
"That legislation will ensure that the state does its part to support our firefighters and their families when they suffer because of what is essentially a work-related illness," Ralston said.
Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, seconded Tanner's comments about transportation needs in the state. Gooch said that the state is doing a lot of catch-up in regards to transportation and road improvements, and said that the work Georgians are seeing now wouldn't have been possible without the leadership and the passage of SB 170 two years ago.
"It's always good to reflect on what was done in the past. A lot of times you can't measure performance of government... but we have done amazing things in the state in just two short years," Gooch said. "Everywhere you look in Georgia you seen cones and barrels, you see construction workers, you see asphalt, you see road work being done, and that's because we are way behind in upgrading our infrastructure, our bridges and our roads, and yes even public transit."
Gooch cited current Georgia Department of Transportation work in Dawson County on bridges, roundabouts and roads improvements, including the new continuous flow intersection, as a result of legislators deciding to invest in the state's infrastructure.