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Forsyths state legislative delegation reflects on 2016 session
District 25 state Rep. Mike Dudgeon of south Forsyth, right, visits with Paul Chambers of AT&T on Tuesday morning at the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce's post legislative breakfast. Dudgeon is not seeking re-election next month to the post he has held since 2011. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

CUMMING — For one member of Forsyth County’s state legislative delegation, a local business breakfast meeting Tuesday was likely one of his last in office.

“It does feel very good to sort of not have to worry about some of the burdens of the office,” Republican Mike Dudgeon of south Forsyth said after the event.

“But it’s also bittersweet, because I like the vast majority of the people that I’m in the legislature with, I like the community folks that I work with. So on the relationship basis, it’s kind of tough to be walking away from that.”

Citing growing business demands, Dudgeon announced in January that he would not seek re-election to the District 25 post he has held since 2011. His replacement likely will be decided in the May 24 Republican Primary.

Dudgeon was joined at the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce-sponsored post legislative session breakfast by five of the other six members of the local delegation.

They included District 27 state Sen. Michael Williams and state Reps. Wes Cantrell, Geoff Duncan, Sheri Gilligan and Kevin Tanner. District 51 state Sen. Steve Gooch of was unable to attend. All are Republicans.

Duncan had to leave the breakfast early, as Gov. Nathan Deal was signing into law a bill he had sponsored for funding failing rural hospitals. Under the measure, private citizens and groups will be able to donate to the hospitals for a tax credit.

“Right now based on the federal formula, the way money is handed out, hospitals are failing almost monthly,” said Duncan, who represents District 26. “What we did is we went in and found a way for those corporations and citizens that allows them to make contributions directly to those rural hospitals.”

Also leaving early for a bill singing was Cantrell, the District 22 lawmaker who had sponsored a bill adding greater confidentiality to child abuse records. Cantrell said the information he came across during the process was sobering.

“Last year alone in Georgia, over 9,000 children who reported abuse were taken to a child advocacy center in our state court to be interviewed and have their testimony recorded,” Cantrell said. “Over the years, these kinds of records have gotten into the wrong hands many times.”

Tanner, who was a supporter of the religious liberty bill recently vetoed by Deal, responded to a submitted question on whether churches would be required to perform marriages that are against their religion.

The District 9 representative said churches had that ability, but that religious freedoms were being eroded in the country.

“The First Amendment, to me, clearly protects pastors from not having to perform these ceremonies regardless of what happened to our religious freedom bill,” Tanner said.

“Just recently we heard reports where a lay pastor, he works for the state … and he was actually terminated, according to the reports, because of the sermon he preached on Sunday, [that] had nothing to do with his employment with the state.”

Responding to a question on how Georgia could foster entrepreneurship and small businesses, Gilligan said the state needed to reduce the amount of red tape.

“For me, when you think about entrepreneurship, you have to encourage the entrepreneur. And you can’t do that if you have so much regulation that you can’t even open your business,” said the District 24 lawmaker.

Fielding a question on how Forsyth County can better work with the state department of transportation on road projects, Williams noted local leaders have already taken such steps.

“I know that our board of commissioners worked really hard and really closely with our department of transportation,” he said. “The [transportation] bond [referendum] that passed a few years ago is a big plus.”

Paul Chambers with AT&T moderated the event, which was held at Sawnee EMC’s auditorium in Cumming.