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Rural prosperity, transit bills pass prior to Crossover Day
Kevin Tanner
Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville.

The House began week eight under the Gold Dome on Monday, Feb. 26, and this week was undoubtedly the busiest week of the 2018 legislative session so far. 

On Feb. 28, we reached legislative Day 28, better known as “Crossover Day.”  Crossover Day is a critical deadline in the General Assembly, as it is the last day a piece of legislation can pass out of its original chamber and still remain eligible for consideration by the opposite legislative chamber.  My House colleagues and I worked well past midnight on Crossover Day and passed many significant House bills for the state of Georgia.  All measures that passed the House this session are now being considered by our Senate counterparts, and conversely, the House will begin to review legislation passed by the Senate.

Georgia’s economy has tremendously grown in recent years, but not all parts of the state have experienced the same level of economic success.  For that reason, the House created the House Rural Development Council last session, and this session, we have prioritized legislation based on the council’s recommendations.

 I had the honor of serving on this council over the past year in my role as Chairman of the Transportation Committee.  Last week, we passed several important measures to benefit our rural communities and help rural Georgia prosper, such as House Bill 951, which passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support.  HB 951 would create the Center for Rural Prosperity and Innovation (CRPI) to serve as a central information and research hub for rural leadership training and best practices, including community planning models, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with nonprofits, religious organizations and other higher education partners.  The CRPI would be located within a college or institution of the University System of Georgia that awards Bachelor of Science degrees in rural community development, and the president of the college or institution would appoint a center director to be approved by a majority vote of the Georgia Rural Development Council. 

The 12-member Georgia Rural Development Council would offer guidance to the CRPI, as well as study the conditions, needs, issues and problems affecting rural economic development, education, unemployment and infrastructure.  The center would assume the business and responsibilities of the Centers of Innovation Agribusiness administered by the Department of Economic Development, and the CRPI, the Department of Economic Development and the Department of Agriculture would collaborate as necessary to achieve the center’s mission and duties. 

The bill would also designate a deputy commissioner for rural Georgia under the Department of Economic Development.  This center would serve as a rural think tank, and with help from the deputy commissioner for rural Georgia, the CRPI would bring valuable resources together to come up with meaningful solutions to the challenges rural Georgia faces.

On Feb. 28 the House passed another bipartisan, rural-friendly bill that implements several recommendations from the House Rural Development Council.  House Bill 887 seeks to expand broadband and other communications services throughout the state by establishing the Georgia Communications Services Tax Act.  HB 887 would allow municipal corporations and electrical membership corporations (EMCs) to provide broadband service in unserved areas within its corporate limits. 

The bill would also establish the Local Government Communication Services Fair Competition Act of 2018 to encompass all communication services, not just cable service.  This act would require franchising authorities to meet several requirements prior to allowing public providers to deliver communications services, thus ensuring fairness, transparency and accountability amongst communications services providers.  Additionally, HB 887 would allow communities to apply to be certified as broadband ready through the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA).

 In an effort to provide broadband infrastructure expenditure assistance that enables coverage throughout the entire state, HB 887 would also require GEMA’s director to develop a grant program that would award projects to qualified broadband providers who request the least amount of money to expand in unserved areas.  Furthermore, this measure would authorize GEMA to create a broadband availability map of the state showing unserved areas and publish the map on GEMA's website.
Finally, HB 887 would regulate an authority's pole attachment rate.  Rural Georgia depends on broadband access to thrive, and this measure aims to increase access to this critical utility to all corners of the state.

Finally, I would like to update you on the status of my legislation House Bill 930, legislation that would create a new regional governance and funding structure for transit in the 13-county metropolitan Atlanta region. 

On Feb. 28, the House overwhelmingly passed this vitally importation transportation measure by a vote of 162-13.  House Bill 930 seeks to improve transit in the metropolitan Atlanta region by facilitating transit coordination, integration and efficiency and promoting a seamless and high-quality transportation system for the area.

The bill would create the Atlanta-region Transit Link (ATL) Authority to coordinate transit planning, funding and operations within 13-county metro Atlanta region and would establish state and local funding sources to improve transit access.  This comprehensive transportation measure is a product of the House Commission on Transit Governance and Funding, that I Chair, and would have a lasting and positive impact on the metro Atlanta region for generations to come. 

I was honored by some kind words by the Speaker and a standing ovation by my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, when the legislation passed.

As you know, I am continuing the tradition of holding a weekly informational breakfast each Saturday during session.  This Saturday we will be meeting at the Wagon Wheel located in Dahlonega at 9 a.m.  I look forward to seeing you there.

I am honored to serve as your Representative at the State Capitol.  I am always available to assist you and encourage you to contact me with questions or your opinions.  I can be reached on my cell phone at (678)776-5059, at the Capitol at (404)656-3947 or by email at kevin.tanner@house.ga.gov.