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Much going on at Gold Dome
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The 2012 Legislative Session is off to a fast start, as lawmakers have already passed several pieces of legislation and met to discuss the governor's budget recommendations.

In addition to my duties at the Capitol, I spent time this week meeting with several key leaders from throughout the 51st District, as well as my constituents.

In the last two weeks, I have attended several banquets sponsored by the Pickens, Gilmer and Fannin Counties' Chambers of Commerce.

Unfortunately, I missed the Dahlonega/Lumpkin County Chamber event last Thursday because we were in session under the gold dome.

Last week, the General Assembly recessed in order to review the proposed budget.

However, we stayed quite busy with committee meetings and constituent visits.

Earlier in the week, I was invited to attend the Georgia Municipal Association Mayor's Day Breakfast with several mayors and city council members from throughout the 51st district.

It was a pleasure spending time with Dahlonega Mayor Gary McCullough, Blue Ridge Mayor Donna Whitener, Blairsville Mayor Jim Conley and several other city council members.

As a pro-life senator, I was honored to join thousands of Georgians at the Capitol Monday for a rally sponsored by the Georgia Right to Life organization. The rally was held to commemorate the countless lives lost since the Supreme Court's Jan. 22, 1973 decision to legalize abortion.

Tourism and hospitality day was recognized on Tuesday, when many of our chamber folks were busy promoting our beautiful mountain communities. Amy Booker and Jay Markwalter from the Dahlonega/Lumpkin County Chamber along with Jan Hackett and Jody Hanson from the Blue Ridge/Fannin County Chamber were there to remind the legislature just how important tourism dollars are for the state and the region.

In fact, recent data shows that tourists spent more than $340 million while visiting the 51st district in 2010. Overall, the Georgia tourism industry generated more than $45 billion in sales last year.

The legislature understands how important tourism is to businesses and we appreciate all the work done by the chambers of commerce around the state.

In addition to tourism day, we also recognized the importance of economic development through the efforts of the Georgia Economic Developers Association. I spent some time with constituents from Union, Fannin and Dawson counties who were in attendance at the GEDA meeting.

Visitors included Commissioner Lamar Paris, Mitch Griggs and Reid Dyer from Union; Stephanie Scearce and Jody Hanson from Fannin County; and Marty and Linda Williams, Kristie Myers, Carol Tyger and Jennifer Baker from Dawson County.

While the tourism industry and economic developers association were working the floors of the Capitol, so were the good folks from many of our community banks, Professional Insurance Agents of Georgia and many of our county sheriffs.

Members of Jasper Bank spoke to the legislature about the many issues and concerns facing the banking industry. The speakers included Paul Nealey and several other board members including: Mike Underwood, Shane Finley, Emily Armasted and Amy Dockery from First Citizens Bank of Dawsonville.

Kevin Painter from Blue Ridge was also on hand to introduce the Speaker of the House David Ralston, at a meeting of the Professional Insurance Agents of Georgia.

It was also an honor to meet with three of the sheriffs of the 51st District and take a commemorative photo with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

Sheriffs Dane Kirby from Fannin County, Stacy Nicholson from Gilmer County and Stacy Jarrard from Lumpkin County were all attending a meeting at the Capitol to discuss critical issues facing our citizens; such as substance abuse and the illegal use of synthetic marijuana.

Our public safety officers risk their lives every day to protect us and we support their efforts.

Sen. Steve Gooch represents the 51st Senate District, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Pickens and Union counties, as well as portions of Forsyth and White counties. He can be reached at (404) 656-9221 or via e-mail at