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Update from the Gold Dome: Week 6
Steve Gooch
Steve Gooch.

We completed Legislative Day 20 on Friday and are officially past the halfway mark for the 2019 session. Crossover Day, March 7, is quickly approaching meaning our committee meetings are about to get a lot longer and our days in the chamber will be filled with debates on numerous bills. While there is much more work to be done, I am proud of the progress we have already made. This week, there was movement on several bills I sponsored to expand broadband across Georgia.

On Wednesday, Senate Bill 17, the “Rural Telephone Cooperative Act,” unanimously passed through the Senate with a vote of 55-0 and Senate Bill 2 passed out of the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee. SB 17 would allow telephone cooperatives in Metter, Newington, Rentz and Statesboro to provide internet services and broadband to their customers. This service could be provided directly or indirectly. Altogether, these four co-ops provide service to over eight counties and ten cities. Senate Bill 17 is a simple but important bill that would allow broadband cooperatives to do business in rural parts of Georgia. I am extremely proud that the Senate has passed SB 17 and, with it, the first steps have been taken towards broadband expansion in Georgia. Broadband access will continue to be a priority here at the Capitol and it is encouraging to receive overwhelming support from my colleagues for this necessary measure.

Senate Bill 2 would allow EMCs to provide internet services and broadband to their customers directly or indirectly through a broadband affiliate. I sponsored both SB 2 and SB 17 to address the deployment of broadband so that we can create a competitive marketplace and expand broadband access to all Georgians – whether it be getting access or enhancing current broadband connections. Both of these bills receiving final passage is a top priority of mine. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House to get SB 17 moving and my friends in the Senate to receive favorable consideration for SB 2 in the Senate Chamber next week.

Along with SB 2 and SB 17 getting traction, Senate Bill 66, the “Streamlining Wireless Facilities and Antennas Act,” will be heard on the Senate Floor on Monday, February 25th. SB 66 is the third piece of legislation aimed at expanding broadband and would modernize Georgia law by addressing the use of public rights of way by wireless providers so that 5G and future generations of cellular mobile communications may be deployed in the most efficient manner. SB 66 would streamline the process for telecommunications companies as they go through the permitting process to collocate small wireless facilities (small antennas) on existing or new poles.

Along with these bills making progress, I would like to highlight another bill I sponsored that passed out of the Senate this week. The Senate passed Senate Bill 79 which would remove the word “mechanical” from the phrase “mechanical multiple message signs” in current law regarding messaging signs on the interstate system, primary highways and other highways. Advertisements on the side of the road should not be a source of distraction for drivers, and laws exist to ensure that potentially distracting message signs are placed far enough apart to reduce distracted driving. Unfortunately, due to the word “mechanical,” some message signs have been placed much closer together than is recommended or is safe. Senate Bill 79 is necessary so that we can close loopholes created by the terminology in existing law and increase driver safety. I look forward to both the House’s and the Governor’s favorable consideration.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding any of these bills or others that passed this week, please give me a call, send an email or stop by the office. We have only 20 legislative days to go this session before Sine Die on April 2nd so make sure you are reaching out with any questions, concerns or feedback. Our office is always open and you are welcome anytime.

Sen. Steve Gooch serves as the Senate Majority Whip.  He represents the 51st Senate District which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Union and White counties and portions of Forsyth and Pickens counties.  He may be reached at (404)656-9221 or via email at steve.gooch@senate.ga.gov.